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Emergency contact services in Kentucky are modernizing.
With the Text-to-911 initiative, individuals in four Kentucky counties now have the capability to text authorities during an emergency, effective immediately. Those participating counties are Fayette, Jessamine, Garrard and Lincoln county.
Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton announced the Text-to-911 initiative during a press conference at the new public safety operations center in Lexington on Thursday, June 13.
“A text might be critically important in a dangerous situation,” Gorton said. “This improvement makes all of us safer.”
Robert Stack, director of the Enhanced 911 Center, issued this rule of thumb for those using the service: “Call if you can, text if you must.”
“We really want to get the voice call, but know there are times when voice call is not available,” Stack said. Those times include dangerous situation where speech may create further threat, or emergencies that involve deaf, hard of hearing or non-verbal autistic individuals.
When involved in a dangerous situation that requires a 911 text, the texter should address their message to 911 with no dashes, Stack said. They should also provide two crucial pieces of information in the initial text: the nature of the emergency and their location.
“If we have those two pieces of information, we can start first-responders,” Stack said.
The texter may be contacted for follow-up questions. Stack said that 911 centers may initiate text conversations in the case of a 911 hang-up call.
For the moment, the service does not support texted photos or videos, although Stack said that capability is “on the horizon.”
During the conference, Gorton discussed the possible impact of Text-to-911 for the deaf and hard of hearing community. According to the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, 61,767 Kentuckians in the affected counties are deaf or hard of hearing.
“In an emergency, (hearing loss) becomes even worse for you,” Virginia Moore, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said. “You become nervous, and your hearing is the first thing that goes.”
Moore said that members of the deaf and hard of hearing community often must wait hours for help due to their inability to or difficulty with placing a verbal call.
Now, with Text-to-911, non-verbal individuals will have an alternative resource for receiving the help they require.
Stack did advise those using the service to stick to “plain language” in emergency situations.
“A lot of the younger generation, particularly, likes emojis, abbreviations, they like acronyms… We want to discourage that,” Stack said.
Individuals outside of Fayette, Jessamine, Garrard and Lincoln counties may also be covered by a similar service. A complete list of counties offering emergency text services can be found on the Federal Communications Commission website.