Texting 911 technology could soon come to Palm Beach County [Sun Sentinel :: ]
(South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 25--Residents in Palm Beach County looking for help might be able to reach 911 via text message in 2015, according to county commissioners.
County staff said they're in the primary stages of testing some software that would allow Palm Beach County dispatch centers to receive 911 notifications by text message. Chuck Spaulding, director of the county's 911 service, said the move is being incorporated into the county's 911 upgrade.
Palm Beach County is on pace to become the first county in Florida to offer the service.
Residents who might not be able to talk to a dispatcher over the phone because of disabilities or because the caller might be in a situation where they're afraid to be heard, Spaulding said.
"Clearly what we want to evolve to is to use technology to benefit the public," he said. "There's evolving standards."
Officials said they're hoping to get the service running by Jan. 1, 2015. It will be incorporated into the county's $10.6 million 911 upgrade called Next Generation 911.
Vermont became the first state to offer the technology statewide, reports show. Spaulding said the four major mobile carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile -- have made commitments to allow 911 texting and the Federal Communications Commission has required all service providers to offer the service by the end of the year.
"We are actually trying to be the first county [in Florida]," County Administrator Bob Weisman said. "Our goal is to be operational by early 2015."
Spaulding said right now officials are examining which operating system works best to deliver text messages to dispatchers and pinpoint issues to educate the public using the system.
He said some problems they're tackling are what to do when the texter is near a county line and the signal isn't picked up by Palm Beach County, and how to educate people about the proper way to use the system so the county gets to everyone who might need their help.
"There's a whole generation that does a lot of texting, and there are a lot of [texting] apps that don't send a text through the carrier," Spaulding said. "We're really going to have to educate the public to make sure at the end of the day we're answering those 911 calls."
He added that the county is recommending people only use 911 texting in instances where using the phone is not an option.
Law enforcement agencies within the county have said they're waiting to see what program the county comes up with before commenting on the 911 system. But officials all agree 911 texting is just another example of how law enforcement agencies have to evolve with technology of the times.
Many agencies use Facebook and Twitter to get out messages to the public and to take tips from people on potential crimes happening in the community.
"A lot of people feel more comfortable with social media or emailing and texting," said Boca Raton police spokesman Mark Economou. "Society is shifting in that way, and that's why I think social media has been so popular."
He said the agency has more than 10,000 followers on their Facebook page and get anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 interactions per post.
At the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, deputies said they also have seen social media boost their profile and given residents alternative ways to interact with law enforcement officials.
Spokeswoman Teri Barbera said the agency has essentially become its own "media," and has benefited from residents reporting non-emergency crimes through social media sites.
"We have had a few tips come through," she said. "We have found our fans to be very receptive to our posts."
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