R U prepared?

York County residents will soon be able to use cellphone text messages to communicate with 911 operators in an emergency, with county commissioners on Wednesday approving a new phone system.

The board awarded a $1.31 million contract to Carlisle-based CenturyLink Business for the purchase, installation, training and maintenance of the system.

It will replace a system whose maker advised it will discontinue maintenance support in 2014, said York County Department of Emergency Services Director Eric Bistline.

Bistline said the project is expected to be completed in about 10 months, but all wireless phone carriers won't be ready to allow the 911-related texts until 2014.

The goal: He said the move to allow texts will help people with disabilities, including those who are hearing impaired or speech impaired.

When the project was announced in September, officials said the technology could save lives in cases of a home invasion or mass shooting incident, where a person could be in danger if he or she spoke.

County spokesman Carl Lindquist said it could be helpful in areas of the county where cell phone coverage is spotty and calls can't be maintained, but it is possible to send and receive texts.

Downfalls include potentially slower communication between the dispatcher and the caller, as well as potential confusion because of abbreviations and "unusual language" some people use when texting.


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People who text could also be uncertain about whether their texts were actually received or lost in transmission, he said.

Paying for it: Bistline said a majority of the project - 90 percent - is being funded by $1 and $1.25 fees that wireless and landline phone companies charge customers. The funds are designated for 911 communication-related improvements.

Remaining costs of the system will be paid for through the county's general fund and a fee charged to people who use phones through internet providers. Commissioners also approved a separate $105,900 contract for communications software, also to be paid for through user fees and the general fund.

- Reach Christina Kauffman at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.