Text-to-911 protects lives, gives way for people to safely manage bad situations

NORTH CHARLESTON (WCSC) - Charleston County Dispatch Center has been using the text-to-911 option for a little over two years, and the director said it's working.

"[It's been] outstanding, one of the things we were cautious about when we first started is we would be overwhelmed with the messages, but we're finding that's not the case and for the most part we're finding people are using it properly," Director Jim Lake with the Charleston County Consolidated 911 said.

The number of calls to 911 strongly outweigh texting 911, but in its two year period, the number of text-to-911 now averages about 15 calls per month.

The scenarios that people choose to text 911 range from people who are deaf or having hearing impairments, in domestic abuse situations, and times when there's an intruder.

"I don't know if I would say we've experienced a text message where we saved a life, however we've certainly protected people's lives,” Lake said.

This is a portion of a real transcript of texts sent to 911 in Charleston County, where a young man was hiding in a closet when he thought people were inside his home and messages were responded to within the second:

“I think my house is being robbed and I only have 2% left on my phone,” one texter said.

“Are you able to make a voice call to 9-1-1-?,” the dispatcher replied.

“No I only have 1% and that wastes the battery fast,” the texter responded.

“That’s fine, tell me exactly what happened, police will be on the way,” the dispatcher replied.

“I’m scared now,” the texter responded.

“It’s okay to be scared, but I really need you to tell me what’s going on as best as you can,” said the dispatcher.

Lake said it is always best to call 911, but text if you can’t depending on the situation because it could take longer to reach a responder.

"It's longer to process, it takes time to get through texting. They're using the commercial text network. So as you are aware, as a normal text user if you send normal text message they couldn't come in order. Sometimes they're delayed. So sometimes it's not as fool proof than an actual phone call," said Lake.

Lake said situations where you’re unable to use the phone, such as if you have a hearing impairment, a dangerous situation, or bad phone reception, texting should be your second option.

"For the most part, especially if they're in a situation where speaking or making noise will alert the person they're afraid of, they should defiantly text us," said Lake.

To text 911 you enter the numbers “911” in the “to” field, and the first message should be where your location is and the type of assistance that you need, dispatch 911 information said.

Lake said to keep your messages concise, “Keep these things in mind:  Speak plain language, don’t use emoji or short hand or short text. And at this point, we can’t receive pictures or video. You can send them, but we can’t get them. So, we need you to send words so we know what’s going on."

For some, they prefer to call 911, which could be why the number of people who text 911 is so much lower than those who call.

"A lot of people don't text 911 because they actually want to hear that voice. Because it's a more immediate response rather than sending a text message and waiting for someone to write something back,” said Lake.

For the little boy hiding in a closet during a possible home invasion, he didn't have a voice to reassure him.
But he did have someone there.

"You'll be okay buddy just sit still, if your phone dies you stay there until police come to you or someone in your family okay?, the dispatcher reassured the boy.

The dispatcher continued to text him until help had arrived.

"They just told me theyre with you so Im disconnecting. Take care!"

The dispatch center is trying to spread so more people know about the service, and when its best to use it.

"We are advertising at the RiverDogs games. We are going to advertise at Sertoma. We go out to the schools and many events. And to the Hispanic community, the deaf community and we have a designated person who goes and out and spreads the message of when to call and when not to," said Lake.

The text-to-911 option is also available for Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

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