Texting to Sampson’s 911 Center won’t happen in the near future, but county emergency and law enforcement officials say it’s on their radar and certainly not out of the realm of possibility — some day.
But for now, said EMS director Ronald Bass, time, energy and resources have been put into completing an upgrade of the Viper 800 radio system, an FCC mandate that included a requirement that all radios be programmed by June 24. That was done last week, the final step in a nine-month process.
“This has been a tremendous project,” Bass said of ensuring the Viper updates for all county emergency agencies was complete, a system which allows 911 to be able to communicate with each department, from fire and rescue to Highway Patrol, Sampson Sheriff and Clinton Police, in addition to state agencies.
“It has been our main focus,” Bass stressed.
While residents being able to text the communications center about an emergency versus making a telephone call is a good thing, the EMS director said it wasn’t a top priorty at this point. The system, he said, is something to be looked into seriously, but it wasn’t something, locally, that needed to take precedence over the Viper mandate.
“We never had any intention of putting something like that ahead of this project. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s a good idea; it is, but we had to prioritize.”
Texting to 911, Bass said, is something he’d like to see the county move to one day, “but how soon would be hard to say,” he attested, pointing to the expense and the training that would have to come with it implementation.
“Honestly, there’s no time frame for something like this. It’s a good idea, and certainly fitting, but I’d say we’re a right long ways from doing it. We haven’t even assessed just how much it would cost to do it at this point. I know it would be quite a bit, but to tell you how much, I honestly don’t know.”
Bass also doesn’t think texting would replace the human voice on the other end of the line in an emergency situation.
“Texting to 911 would be a great thing, but I’d have to say I don’t believe it would take the place of a voice on the other end of a phone line. For one thing, you can’t transfer to Highway Patrol or some other agency, and you can’t get the same feel as you would with a call. For example, our dispatchers are trained to listen for things like background noise … it gives you a good idea of what’s happening. A text won’t give you that.”
Like Bass, Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton sees positives in a 911 texting capability but he believes it’s a down-the-road venture whose time has not quite yet come in Sampson.
“I think it could be very beneficial, but in all honesty it wouldn’t be a top priority for us given all the budget issues we are facing today and the needs we have. Obviously if Mr. Bass thought it was something we greatly needed, we would work to do what we could because communication between agencies and the public is key,” the sheriff stressed.
Residents, polled on The Sampson Independent’s Facebook page, believe there would be benefits to Text911 and said, if available, they might use it in some cases.
“Yes I think it is beneficial to have this. Just think if someone breaks into your home, you can send a quick text instead of staying on the phone maybe allowing the burglar to hear you talking,” responded ?????????
Rochelle Stuart said she would use such a system if the need ever arose and it was available in Sampson.
And Veronica Alcorta replied tongue-in-cheek, saying “In certain cases it could be used in, but if I’m dying then I’m calling. (lol).
Bass said he believed some residents would use the technology if available; others might now.
“It would be a resource for many residents, I’m sure. So many people like to text for just about everything these days. I can see where people would use it and I can see where it would be beneficial in some cases.”
Right now,Bass said he was only aware of two counties in North Carolina that utilized the Text911.
“It’s coming, and we want to have that capability sometime in the future. I just know it’s not an immediate need,” Bass said.