Coos County Sheriff's Office
Bethany Baker, The World

COOS COUNTY — Text 911 is being rolled out across the county on Friday, Dec. 1.

 “The motto for this is ‘Call when you can, text when you can’t,’” said Dispatch Supervisor Joanne Beck with the Coos County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re the first center to have this on the southwestern Oregon coast.”

Text 911 only works if there are minutes on a phone, unlike dialing 911 which will go through regardless. Not only that, but if a there’s a lot of calls going through a cell tower, 911 calls get priority. With text 911, that won’t happen.

“These texts won’t get that priority, which is why they say to still call when you can,” Beck said.

Beck provided examples of when text 911 should be used, including hikers and mushroom pickers when they get lost and are out of cell service but can still send a text.

“Or say the burglar gets into your house and you hide in the closet and don’t want them to know you’re there, so you send us a text,” Beck said. “Or you have an abusive boyfriend who is telling you not to call the cops. In that case, send us a text.”

The additional benefit is that it better serves the hearing impaired and deaf communities.

“In the past, they had to be hooked to a landline with a TTY (teletypewriter),” Beck said. “Here at dispatch, we have TTY on our phones but that requires a landline and that doesn’t go with you everywhere. Now if they get into an accident or have a problem, they can text us which will be a great help to the hearing impaired.”

The first sentence for emergency texts should only be your location as best as it can be given. If it doesn’t go through, a bounce back message will be sent immediately. If it does, a dispatcher will begin texting back.

“There is no app to download to use this,” Beck said. “All you have to do is open up a text message and have it sent to 911. Don’t send it as a group message or it won’t go through. Also don’t type in short hand codes or use emojis. Try to spell words out the best you can, use plain language. Remember that someone else not in your age group is reading those texts.”

The initial startup for the new technology cost $4,000, which was paid for by Oregon Emergency Management.

Beck expects new generation technology of the text 911 to one day include photo, video, and translations, but for now none of those are included.

Also, anyone with AT&T who live in Coquille are unable to use text 911 for the initial rollout. Both the Coos Bay Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department are working to acquire the same program soon.

As dispatch supervisor, Beck reminded the public that it is not appropriate to dial or text 911 when the power is out, asking why there are sirens, or if the neighbor’s dog is barking. If the power goes out, Beck urges people to have flashlights and the numbers needed to report it to the proper power company.

For non-emergency’s, people can call 541-396-2106, 541-396-7830, or 541-396-7833. These numbers are staffed 24 hours.

“Program these numbers into your phone contacts,” she suggested.

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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