York County residents will soon be able to summon emergency help without even saying a word to a 911 dispatcher.

A project to move to a new system to process incoming 911 calls, which allows for text messages, wrapped up Tuesday, according to the county.

Though the technology to accept texts is in place, 911 will not be answering texts for help just yet, said Carl Lindquist, spokesman for the county.

"It's imperative that people understand they can not text 911 right now," he said.

But should someone text 911, they'll receive an automated reply that reads: "Make a voice call to 911; text to 911 is not available."

County officials hope to have the text-to-911 system fully functional in the spring or summer of 2015, Lindquist said.

Work ahead: In the meantime, the 911 center, located in Springettsbury Township, will request the four major nationwide wireless service carriers to give the county the capability to offer the service. In the past, the wireless service carriers have voluntarily agreed to providing the service to text-capable centers that request it.

On its end, York County 911 will develop policies, train staff and test the system.

The new service is part of a project to replace a system whose maker advised it will discontinue maintenance support this year.

The system cost just under $1.1 million, with $618,698 coming from fees charged by the state to wireless subscribers. The remainder came from the county's general fund.


Advertisement

"This project keeps our 911 center on the leading edge of today's rapidly evolving communications landscape," York County Commissioner Doug Hoke said in an news release.

Perks and challenges: The text-to-911 system offers both benefits and challenges, Eric Bistline, executive director of Emergency Services, said in the release.

The system will allow resident to quietly communicate with 911 during situations when silence is needed such as a home invasion, he said, adding residents will also be able to get through to 911 in areas where there is spotty cell service that may hinder an effective phone call.

However, texting is a slower way to communicating, Bistline said.

There is also the possibility of a text being sent to another county's 911 center. For example, a text could be directed to another center when the caller is near the county border and a cell tower outside of York County picks up the text, sending it elsewhere.

That happens with some phone calls now but callers are quickly patched through to York County 911, Lindquist said.

"It's a very low percentage of calls that fall into one of the those pockets," he said.

Text abbreviations could also led to confusion on the dispatchers end, Lindquist added.

"So our dispatcher may not be able to interpret that," he said.

That's why even when texting becomes available, county officials are encouraging voice calls to 911 be placed instead of sending texts.

- Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.