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Text to 911 up and running in Stark County

This is an example of a text conversation for text to 911. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

Text to 911 is now live in Stark County, county emergency manager Bill Fahlsing said.

While the service has been available in North Dakota since October, text calls were previously being routed through the eastern side of the state in the Red River Valley. Those were then dispatched out to localities for a response. As of June 15, all text calls sent in Stark County will go through dispatch at the Dickinson Public Safety Center. As of July 6, the center has not taken any text calls directly, though dispatch supervisor Dana Becker said they were relayed at least two text calls in the past.

"It's a new skill (dispatchers) are having to develop and worry about," she said. "Initially it's going to take us time to get used to it, but anytime you have direct communication it's better than having a medium in between. We'll get there."

While texting is available, authorities highly encourage people to only use the service when they are unable to make a voice call. Additionally, pictures and videos can not be accepted at this time.

To text to 911, enter 911 in the "to" field. The text should be brief and include location and the type of emergency. Then hit send. People should be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 personnel and they should respond in simple words, without using abbreviations. However, the texts cannot give someone's exact location, instead going off of nearby cell towers, which could be many miles away.

The service can be useful to people who may be deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. It is also ideal if someone is in a situation where speaking could compromise their safety; for example an active shooter, domestic violence situation, home invasion or abduction. Additionally if someone doesn't have enough signal to make a phone call, they may have enough to send and receive text messages.

"If people can call, I think that's the best way to do it," Becker said. "Call if you can, text if you can't."

Fahlsing said they do not know what types of situations they will likely receive text messages from because of how new the technology is.

"I don't think at this point there are real large expectations," Fahlsing said. "This is brand new technology to 911, so we really don't even have historical data to go off from other centers to know what to expect."

Dispatchers are told to give the same level of care as they would to someone who is on the phone. However, Becker noted that may not always be achievable.

"It's a different skill and it's just a different form of communication," Becker said. "... There's no way that it can be the same. If I have to talk you through CPR, it's hard enough doing it verbally, it's a nightmare doing it over text. It definitely complicates things."

Becker said they are also concerned about people abusing the system. It is a crime to text 911 with a false report.

"I really think that of regular calls about 20 percent of them are actual emergencies, so we're hoping that the text to 911s are just going to be emergencies, if not we're going to ask people to call if they can," Becker said. "You can get better information that way."

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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