Lane County Plans to Add “Text to 911” Service for Emergencies

This summer Lane County is planning to add a ‘Text to 911’ service, and it’s exactly what it sounds like — the ability to text in emergencies instead of making a voice call.

One reason given for the addition is keeping up with the times. With the world’s latest technology, texting is a logical next step.

Plus, the service will serve one community in particular that’s still relying on some old tools.

“I would have to type what I wanted to say and then the other person would type at their end and there would just be one line coming across the screen,” explained Rob Poirier, program manager at Central Lane Communication Center.

“I couldn’t just pick up the phone and say, ‘this is an emergency,’ so I would try to use the TTY and too much time went by,” said Andrea Cabral, president of the Hearing Loss Association in Lane County.

She’s describing a teletypewriter that people with hearing and speech impairments use for phone communication. It’s old and it’s slow.  “It’d be like me telling my teenage granddaughter that she had to get a hold of me by payphone,” said Poirier. “She wouldn’t even know what that is.”

There are a few more modern options, like a caption telephone, but nothing that’s really fast or easy to use — until now.  “With text we’ll be able to contact 911 directly. It will be great.”  “We just feel it’s a good way to expand and improve our service to the community,” said Poirier.

Text to 911 is for community members like Cabral. “Until it happens to you,” she said, “you don’t think that you need that service.” When her husband ruptured his spleen, there was no time for the TTY and she said she’s too hard of hearing to communicate in that situation on the phone.

“I went knocking on neighbor’s doors to try to get somebody else to call for me while he was here almost dying.” That’s the problem. “I think Text to 911 is the answer.” “This would just be like another tool,” Poirier explained. “It would be a warning that goes off just like when the phone rings and it sends off an audible warning and that call would be picked up and processed like any other.”

It started with a pilot project in Portland last year.  “The whole state’s trying to do this all at once now that the Portland area has proven successful.”

Now the three Lane County communication centers are working to launch the same thing on July 1. “Our slogan going through with this will be: ‘Call if you can, text if you can’t,’” said Poirier.

For anyone who can’t talk on the phone because of imminent danger or anyone who can’t talk on the phone because of a disability, “it’s whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Central Lane officials say they’re already all set up for this, and it won’t require any more money, staff or technology. They say it’s just a matter of organizing with the other two county call centers and then launching the service.