Call when you can, text when you can’t.
That’s the message conveyed by Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols and emergency dispatch supervisor Deedra Molotsky when the two revealed the newest tool to help citizens communicate with 911 dispatchers.
By text message. But — don’t text and drive, Nichols said.
The text-to-911 system is a national and state program that went “live” in Brown County last week, and is intended for someone who is unable to contact a dispatcher by voice.
The 911 system comes from the West Central Texas Council of Governments, Nichols said.
“They’re in charge of the 911 system,” Nichols said. “As they get it, they roll it out to folks like us.”
Standing next to emergency dispatches in the dispatch center, Nichols used his cell phone to demonstrate contacting 911 by text message.
“The way this works, is, you just start a normal text,” Nichols said, “The ’to’ would be ‘911.’ And then what I want to do is send ‘I need help. I’ve been in a wreck.’ So I’ll send that. It’s going to come across to the dispatcher’s here …”
Moments later, a ping sounded from a dispatcher’s screen as a boxed test message appeared. “So they will answer the text and they can start typing in a response, or they can go to some standardized pre-set responses that are already built in,” Nichols said.
The dispatcher’s response appeared on Nichols’ phone: “Brownwood PD 911, what is the location of your emergency?”
“This may be somebody who can’t speak, for whatever reason,” Nichols said. “They’re in a place where they’re hidden — someone broke in their home, they’re hidden in a closet, and they can only do it this way.”
The system currently exists is limited in that a caller can’t transmit a picture that would be helpful to dispatchers, and it won’t automatically give the caller’s location.
“We just finally got it last week, and we’re still building it,” Molotsky said. “Eventually we’re going to have what we call phase 2, where it’s going to give you a location, it’s going to give you who the phone is, who the cell provider is, and take pictures. All that’s coming.”
The text-to-911 system is “just one more tool to allow people to communicate with us in a crisis,” Nichols said.