York County unveils Smart911, text to 911


Contacting York County 911 is now at the touch of your fingers, literally.

County officials and first responders during a Tuesday press conference heralded two separate programs — text to 911 and Smart911— they said will make contacting the emergency call center easier for residents and will also streamline getting a caller's information. The systems go live Wednesday.

"For those of us who have been around for 30 years, this is another step in enhancing our ability" to respond to calls, said Mark Bentzel, chief of Northern York County Regional Police.

The programs will make the county 911 system in Springettsbury Township "one of the most advanced 911 centers in Pennsylvania," said Commissioner Chris Reilly.

York County's 911 center receives more than 1,100 calls each day, noted Doug Hoke, the vice president commissioner.

Smart911: The technology will allow county residents to create an online profile at and register information about themselves and their children, including medical conditions, as well as details about their home, such as its floor plan. Users also can upload photographs of themselves, children and pets.

The information will be displayed on a dispatcher's computer screen only when someone dials or texts 911, and it is displayed for 45 minutes. Information can be shared with emergency personnel in the field.

"This is all secured information," said Eric Bistline, executive director of the county's Department of Emergency Services. "It only comes to the 911 center."

During a demonstration, a county employee placed a call to 911 and his information promptly popped up on the dispatcher's computer screen.

Centers in other parts of the nation that have Smart911 technology will be able access the information when, for example, someone calls while on vacation, Bistline said.

Registration: The information is only as good as that which residents choose to enter.

The county is encouraging everyone to register online and provide as much or as little information as you're comfortable, with and it's working with organizations — such as schools, animal shelters and its office of Children, Youth & Families — to alert people about the program, said Carl Lindquist, county spokesman.

"Reaching the people who are most likely going to call 911 is what we're focused on now," he said.

Trends from Smart911 show 10 percent of residents register within the first year of the program's launch in an area.

Registration numbers increase to 30 to 40 percent over time in some areas. Commissioners in August inked a deal for Smart911 program licenses at a cost of $40,500.

Starting in January, the county will be charged a $99,000 yearly licensing fee.

Texting: The text-to-911 system, which cost just under $1.1 million, with $618,698 coming from fees charged by the state to wireless subscribers, is available only to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon cellphone subscribers, as well as Comcast voice over Internet protocol subscribers.

The technology allows residents to text 911 in circumstances when they can't talk, such as when a robber is in a home and the resident is hiding, officials said.

But officials encourage everyone to continue to call 911 instead of texting whenever possible.

"Texting is slower than calling," Reilly said, adding never text 911 or anyone when driving.

He also noted some people use acronyms in text messages and that may get lost in translation.

Dispatch will have access to a 113-page book, which is also online, that translates acronyms, such as ATM, which means At The Moment, Asynchronous Transfer Mode and Automated Teller Machine, as well as TG4A, which means Thank God For Acronyms.

"The kids today have their own language in texting," Bistline said. "When you can, call 911."

— Reach Greg Gross at