Being able to send SMS messages to 911 dispatch centers offers citizens a number of unique benefits, allowing people to contact an emergency call center when speaking would endanger their life (for example, if a burglar is in the house) and allowing the hard-of-hearing to contact emergency services, among other potential applications. One young Virginia girl used her mobile phone to take a photo of a break-in at a neighboring house by raising her phone to the window, allowing her to send the York-Poquoson police a photo, without having to reveal herself.
Recognizing the benefit of being able to contact emergency services via text, the emergency call center that services York County, Poquoson, and Williamsburg decided to incorporate text messaging capabilities into their response system. On Monday, the York-Poquoson- Williamsburg call center became one of the first call centers to accept emergency text messages.
Text messaging escaped any kind of annual budget crunching, as its implementation didn’t cost taxpayers a cent. The emergency communications chief, Terry Hall, said, “… we can do more with less. We’re going to increase services and it won’t cost any money.” As 911 emergency call centers face budget scrutiny, and small call centers start being absorbed by larger ones, text messaging may offer centers a way to provide more services, without increasing their expenses.
The WY Daily warned their local readers that there are a few important guidelines for citizens to keep in mind when they are using the service. As more call centers adopt this capability, these same guidelines will be valuable for people nationwide: calling is more efficient, so using the SMS service should be reserved only for those times in which a call is not possible (as in a life-threatening situation); prank messages will result in a $2,500 fine or up to one year in jail; and, despite GPS technology, it is still necessary to provide an exact location.
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