Washington County 911 plans to accept text, video messages for emergency services

Becky Campbell • Jul 29, 2013 at 10:12 AM

As communications technology advances, emergency communications have also had to change, and the public will soon be able to contact 911 by text and video messaging.

It’s called NG911, or Next Gen 911, according to Randall Lewis, assistant director of Washington County 911.

“The industry is slowly migrating toward Next Gen 911. In order for 911 to take text messages or video messages, we’ve had to upgrade our system,” Lewis said.

The upgrade occurred earlier this year.

“In Northeast Tennessee, all eight districts got together and bought our Next Gen equipment as a regional solution.”

That also allowed Washington County 911 to purchase an upgraded system for Jonesborough Public Safety, which has its own dispatchers but is included in equipment purchases by the Washington County Communications District.

“With the grant money, we bought an extra set of hardware and software for Jonesborough. It brought them up to the same equipment we have here” in the Johnson City dispatch center, Lewis said.

Tying Jonesborough into the Johnson City system will also cut lag time when a cell phone caller dials 911 and gets routed to the wrong dispatch center, he said. Instead of physically transferring a caller to the other center, it happens with just a click of a mouse.

“It benefits the town of Jonesborough and it benefits us,” he said.

Lewis said the hearing-impaired community will greatly benefit from the new system. Instead of using a relay system or teletype system, a hearing-impaired person will be able to simply send a text to 911 to report an emergency.

Lewis said people should not use the the new technology to totally replace calling 911, especially when texting would put the caller in more danger.

“Our message to the public is ‘Talk, don’t text,’ ” Lewis said.

The equipment is in place and fully functional at 911, but cell phone companies have until mid-2014 to bring their systems in line with Next Gen 911.

“I’d guess it’ll be the end of next year,” before callers can use text and video messaging to 911, Lewis said.

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