INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers with Verizon cellphones can now text 911 in 28 Indiana counties, including much of northeast Indiana.
Allen County 911 currently can only send texts but is expected to be able to receive inbound 911 texts within a few days. Most carriers and counties are expected to be online by July.
But law enforcement officials cautioned Wednesday, when Verizon began accommodating 911 texts, that calling 911 is still the best option.
“In most circumstances, a call is best,” State Police Capt. David Bursten said.
Texting is encouraged for callers who are deaf or hearing- or speech-impaired; if a caller is otherwise unable to speak because of a medical condition such as a stroke; or if speaking would be unsafe, such as during an abduction or home invasion.
Barry Ritter, executive director of the statewide 911 board, said 75 percent to 80 percent of all 911 calls come from a cellphone.
He said Hoosiers use their phones as alarm clocks, to receive pharmacy reminders and to provide entertainment. That's why the state's system is taking the next step to receive 911 texts in emergency situations.
“Starting today, public safety has taken a major step forward,” Ritter said.
INdigital telecom of Fort Wayne operates the statewide IN911 network. The company also built and supports the text-to-911 software.
A demonstration showed that it takes about 20 to 30 seconds for a text to transmit from the sender to a 911 center. The technology narrows down a location but isn't exact, meaning that the operator will ask for an address and any other information needed to help with the emergency.
There is no cost to counties to sign on, which is voluntary. Ritter said 66 counties have agreed and are in various stages of implementation.
Three heavily populated counties – Marion, Lake and St. Joseph – have operational challenges or are consolidating their 911 centers and are not participating.
That means about 25 percent of the state's population still won't have access to the technology.
Anyone who tries to text 911 in a county that doesn't have the capability will receive a bounce-back message saying to call 911.