Text-to-911 to come to Austin in 2016

Zainab Calcuttawala

Text-to-911 capabilities will be available in the Austin area as soon as June 2016, according to Gregg Obuch, director of emergency communications at the Capitol Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG).

When the service goes live, people located in all ten counties under the jurisdiction of CAPCOG will be able to text to 911 to receive police, fire and medical emergency services, Obuch said. These ten counties include Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson. 

CAPCOG is an association of over 90 member governments and organizations that work together to provide public services as a region to avoid the unnecessary duplication of work when developing new infrastructure.

Obuch said 911 texts regarding situations that have occurred or are occurring on-campus will be directed to UTPD for a more efficient response. 

Users of the new service will have to provide their location information in the text they send to 911, according to the CAPCOG website. Whereas voice calls usually provide the dispatcher the phone number of the caller and their approximate location in a feature called “Enhanced 911,” the dispatcher will not automatically receive this location information from texts sent from wireless phones.

The Austin Police Department has not installed the appropriate systems to provide the service in the department’s dispatch center but is working with CAPCOG to procure them, Lisa Cortinas, senior public information specialist for APD, said.

Accounting senior Nicholas Munson said he would prefer calling 911 over texting because it leads to greater speed and accuracy.

“I’m not sure if I would rely on Siri to transcribe my words when in an emergency, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to text it out faster than talking on the phone,” Munson said.

According to public relations junior Marissa Ballard, the service could be helpful to those facing dangerous situations where completing a phone call could alert their attacker of their location.

According to the website, CAPCOG hopes the new service will make emergency services more easily accessible to the younger generation — which is well versed in texting as a medium — and people with hearing and speech disabilities. The website, however, says those who are able should call 911 for emergency services because it allows the operator to ask questions about the situation faster.