Eagle County is third in state to get text 911
Emergency uses for your phone
Before the time of ubiquitous cell phone use and the smartphone, there was a time that phones were largely used in emergency situations. These days in Eagle County, there are a number of apps and phone functions that can help you in the event of an emergency.
Texting 9-1-1: Free to use. Simply text 911 and a dispatcher will respond. Voice calls are still preferred, if it is possible to make one.
EC Alerts: Sign up for emergency alerts such as road closures or fires via text. Sign up for the alert list at http://www.vail911.com/ec-alert.
Everbridge: This “reverse notification system” allows people to register their phone to different locations, and you’ll be notified if there is an emergency at one of those places. For example, if you phone is tied to your child’s school and the school has an emergency evacuation, you will be notified via your phone of the situation. Go to http://www.vail911.com/ec-alert and click on “Free Everbridge EAP Sign Up” at the bottom of the page to find out more.
PulsePoint: This free app notifies users when there is a need for CPR nearby, so that if an app user can administer help faster than emergency services, they can get there first. The app also uses crowdsourcing to help pinpoint the nearest AEDs. See http://www.pulsepoint.org for more info.
VAIL — Eagle County residents and visitors can now call 9-1-1 and report an emergency — all without saying a word.
Eagle County is the third county in the state, along with Pitkin and Larimer counties, to add text to 911 service.
If someone is in a situation where it isn’t safe to call or in an area where coverage is not strong enough to make a voice call, the person can simply text 911. The cell tower will route the text to emergency dispatch, and a dispatcher will respond.
“If you reach out via text, it will be treated as an emergency, and the first response you’ll get is ‘This is 911. Make a voice call if you can. If not, what is the emergency?’” said Jennifer Kirkland, of the Vail Public Communications Center.
Emergency services still encourage people to make a voice call whenever possible, for a number of reasons.
“The disadvantage to text is that you have to spend time typing it out. Also on voice calls, the dispatcher can help calm you and help control the situation, and that’s harder via text,” said Kirkland.
However, there are cases where it isn’t safe to speak — such as in some domestic violence cases or if you are in a situation with an active shooter — or where you cannot make a voice call, such as in the backcountry.
Kirkland said the service is also very useful for non-English speakers and deaf callers. Dispatchers can simply use translation tools to communicate in other languages. Deaf callers previously had to use a relay system to speak with dispatchers, but the texting service lets those callers communicate without any special technology.
In time for Worlds
Currently, the service is accessible through the four major carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. If service is not yet possible for a particular carrier, a bounce-back message will be sent stating that the service is not available and to please make a voice call.
Kirkland said the county was eager to get the service up and running in time for the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. The texting service has been available to communities for a while — the Federal Communications Commission mandated that the cellular companies provide the service. However, there is no requirement for communications centers to use the service, and communities have been slow to jump on board.
Success for Pitkin County
Pitkin County, which has had text to 911 for about a year now, helped Eagle County set up its system.
Pitkin’s emergency dispatch said that the texting option wasn’t used a lot but there were a few situations where it was very handy.
Pitkin County dispatch supervisor Ginny Bultman remembered a call during the summer in which a person was reporting that his friend had fallen and been injured in the Maroon Bells. The person originally made a call, but the reception was so broken that dispatchers were unable to communicate. They asked him to text instead and were able to find out the problem, pinpoint coordinates and send search and rescue to find the injured party.
“What’s nice is that it doesn’t take as much technology to text as it does to actually talk to someone on the cell phone,” said Bultman.
She said she also took two text “calls” with Spanish speakers.
“Our first call using texting was from a Spanish speaking caller reporting domestic violence. I don’t speak or understand Spanish, but I was able to use Google translator, and we were able to get the help she needed,” said Bultman.
To find out more about Eagle County’s emergency communications and about texting 911, visit http://www.vail911.com.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.