CEDAR RAPIDS — Residents throughout Linn and Johnson counties are now able to notify emergency responders via text message rather than only by phone.
However, authorities said that phone calls always are the preferred option when possible.
“Call if you can, text if you can’t,” said Charlie McClintock, Cedar Rapids’s 911 director.
Representatives from Cedar Rapids, Marion and Linn County, which operate the three Public Safety Answering Points in the county, announced the new option during a demonstration Tuesday at Cedar Rapids’s 911 dispatch center.
With the technology now available, someone with a cellphone can send a text message to 911.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in October that Text-to-911 would be available to all Iowans in October. All but four counties in Iowa have now adopted the technology, McClintock said.
Tom Jones, executive director of the Johnson County Joint Emergency Communication Center, said Johnson County has offered 911 text capabilities since Nov. 14.
There are three primary needs for a text to 911 service, authorities noted Tuesday. The principal reason is to accommodate the needs of the deaf community and those with similar disabilities.
Jennifer Upah-Kyes, executive director of Deaf Iowans Against Abuse Inc., said the technology will provide a valuable service to the people she serves, noting many deaf Iowans rely on video phones, teletypewriters or the help of others to make phone calls.
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“As a mother of children, I don’t want to rely on my children to make an emergency call,” Upah-Kyes said.
Other reasons for sending a text instead of a 911 call include being an emergency when calling could jeopardize someone’s safety or when someone is having a medical situation that affects their ability to use their voice.
Linn County Sheriff Col. John Stuelke said authorities from the three Public Safety Answering Points waited to announce the new technology until all three centers were on board and able to offer text service to all citizens in Linn County.
“It was a concerted effort to make sure we were online together,” Stuelke said.
The text option does have limitations, however. The initial text takes about 20 to 30 seconds to be received and dispatchers cannot pinpoint from where a text was sent. For that reason, authorities said a location always should be included in an initial text.
“That will help get the ball rolling quicker,” Jones said. “Texting is not instantaneous.”
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