Future 911 dispatcher exchanges might look something like this:
---Resident: theres a guy in my house with a gun. im hiding plz hlp
---911 Dispatcher: Sending a unit. What is your address?
Or like this:
---Motorist text: im at springwood road near chapel church. just crashed, other guy is hurt. dead zone, call not gng thru
---911 Dispatcher: Sending a unit. How many injured people?
Hoping to keep up with technology, the York County Department of Emergency Services is looking to replace the telephone system used to process incoming 911 calls.
The change is expected to cost between $1.2 million and $2 million and will allow people to send text messages to report emergencies.
Benefits: There are several benefits to text capability, as it 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, said county spokesman Carl Lindquist.
It would also 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, he said.
Concerns: But the 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, he said.
People who text could also be uncertain about whether their texts were actually re-
ceived or lost in transmission, he said.
Also, dispatchers can't discern the tone in a texter's voice, which can help in communicating, Lindquist said.
County officials aren't alone in their concerns.
While noting the potential benefits of texting, Southwestern Regional Police Department Chief Gregory Bean said he would want to make sure the system could still hold "callers" accountable and didn't lead to an increase in pranks.
Bean said modern law enforcement is "going into new grounds where we want to be very easily accessible with information, but we also want checks and balances."
But Bean said he supports innovative ways of communicating with a public that has diverse communication preferences.
His department recently launched an email system through which the public can provide non-emergency tips, and the volume of information coming from the public has "dramatically increased," he said.
Dead zones: Northeastern Regional Police Chief Bryan Rizzo is president of the York County Chiefs of Police Association.
He said pranks would be a concern, but he believes texting would be beneficial.
"I know we've had many domestic situations over the years where they were afraid to call because the abuser would hear them," he said. "They were hiding, or just (situations where) they wanted to call and the person assaulting or abusing them was right there."
He said there's a "dead zone" near the village of Saginaw, where there's a lot of drug activity and trespassing.
Location tracking: Lindquist said 911 can track phone locations, but dispatchers don't do it to verify the accuracy of the call; they immediately dispatch crews.
He said it's a crime to make a false report, and there would be the same accountability measures as there are for the typical phone call.
Lindquist said 911 calls will remain the same when the new system is installed, but it will eventually allow residents to send text messages in the coming years.
The county has no timetable, as the texting capability is contingent on the state and federal governments and wireless carriers who must still organize the launch on their level.
"It's absolutely critical the community understand that even when we have this equipment, we will not be able to receive text messages until the full system is operational," he said. "As it stands now and for the foreseeable future, the community should not under any circumstance use text messages in an attempt to communicate with the York County 911 Center."
Lindquist said about 70 percent of the cost would be covered through a $1 fee that cell phone users have been paying on their monthly bills.
The remaining 30 percent would be paid for through the county's general fund, with money already incorporated into this year's budget, he said.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.