Text to 911 available in Benton and Franklin Counties

“Call if you can, text if you can't,” said Kim Lettrick with the Southeast Communication Dispatch Center.
Text to 911 available in Benton and Franklin Counties

BENTON & FRANKLIN COUNTIES, Wash. — Text to 911 is now available. Callers are able to send a text message to emergency services.

“The biggest benefit for our community is going to be for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing,” said Kim Lettrick with the Southeast Communication Dispatch Center, or SECOMM.

The preferred method for those who can speak is to call, but if you’re in a situation where you can’t, texting is now available.

“One of the most important things that people can give us immediately when they text is their location. Without location, we can’t send any kind of services,” Lettrick said.

Officials say to enter the location and type of emergency, keep texts brief, refrain from using emojis, slang or special characters and stay with your phone to follow instructions from dispatchers.

“We lose some of the background noise that we hear, the inflection in people’s voices. We lose the ability to interrupt and get to critical information which is very important,” said Lettrick.

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Text to 911 has been available in some places in the United States since 2018, but Benton and Franklin counties are just now catching up.

“Initially, it was implemented with unsophisticated software,” said Lettrick. “We felt like we needed to wait to see how this would develop.”

Lettrick said it was initially implemented through third-party software that appeared on the desktop, and dispatchers had to take the information from one system and retype it into another system. She said it’s more automated now.

SECOMM performed a soft-implementation August 2 to get some practice before it was officially announced September 11, 2022.

Since it’s been released, Lettrick said there had been 12 real emergency text communications.

She said it’s helpful in situations where the reporting party doesn’t want anyone to know they’re communicating with 911. This could be in cases of domestic violence, where safety might be compromised.

“Especially in the north-Franklin County area, there are pockets where cell coverage is not very good. You can’t make a voice phone call, but you can text,” said Lettrick.

“Call if you can, text if you can’t,” she said.

READ: “A crisis right now”: SECOMM hiring 911 dispatchers