‘Next Generation 911’ looks to save lives via texting; Mason County 911 utilizing new technology

Staff Report

POINT PLEASANT — Mason County 911 is utilizing a new technology called Next Generation 911.

This technology allows citizens with a cellular phone and text messaging to communicate with 911 dispatchers via a text message instead of the traditional voice call, according to 911 Emergency Services Deputy Director R.C. Faulk.

Faulk, who installed, configured and tested this technology in Mason County, said: “In today’s world, there is as much or more communication via cellular device than traditional land-line, and even more so by texting than voice calling, so it is important to be able to embrace this new technology to make sure that the citizens of Mason County have every possible way to communicate with 911. This is probably one of the largest technological advancements in citizen-to-911 communication since the standardization of the digits nine one and one across the country.”

Faulk added that it’s no secret there are cellular service gaps in areas of Mason County and areas where cellular service is low and if a citizen is able to get a text message through, then they are able to communicate for help.

“Once I got the technology implemented and workstations configured and running, even during testing, we used the service twice and saved two lives,” Faulk said. “One citizen was having such a bad heart attack and in such distress they could no longer talk, but were able to type with 911 to get help. The other was a young child in an unsafe area in hiding from adults where it was not safe to talk but requested help from 911 by text message and a deputy was able to be dispatched to assist.”

Throughout the country, 911 dispatch centers are working to implement this new technology and find staff to manage the new services, but Faulk already has that ability and Mason County has the service up and running to better serve citizens. Faulk states there are more than 6,000 dispatch centers in the United States and Mason County 911 is just one of the 92 dispatch centers that have this advanced technology in place and operating.

Mason County was only the second dispatch center in West Virginia to have this technology, Faulk added.

There were some unique testing challenges to work out with this new technology and the cellular providers that have not been faced due to jurisdictional boundaries with Ohio, which caused Mason County to more thoroughly test the technology before making it available to the public, Faulk explained.

Now, some other West Virginia counties are seeing the benefits of Next Generation 911 service and are beginning to implement the technology in their areas.

“Contacting Mason County 911 by text message is a very easy process that includes the following steps,” Faulk said. “First, open a text message and in the ‘To’ line just enter 911 where you would normally put in your contact; second, type in the message area what you need to tell the dispatcher; third, send your message and a dispatcher will type back to you.”

Faulk added the single most important item to have in your message is your location.

“It is absolutely paramount that we have exact and precise location information in order to send responders to help you,” he said.

Citizens who request 911 assistance via text will be asked most of the same questions that would be asked if they were to place a voice call to 911, so patience should be exercised during a texting session.

Information for this article submitted by 911 Emergency Services Deputy Director RC Faulk.

Staff Report