New Braunfels police launch 911 texting, Austin still waiting

NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas (KXAN) — In case of an emergency, trying to get a hold of 911 could be a life or death situation. Over the past few years, numerous agencies across the country have implemented 911 texting.

This week, the New Braunfels Police Department, in conjunction with the Bexar Metro 911 Network District, launched it’s Text to 911 service available to residents in the San Antonio metropolitan area and the counties of Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe.

Their dispatchers can now receive text messages from anyone needing help.

“We’re able to refresh as the call progresses and pin down a location better and better but it does mark on the map where it’s located,” said Supervisor Paul Marler. “If they’re not in a situation where they can talk to us or speak to us then it gives them another avenue to get help.”

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon customers can now send a short message to 911 in an emergency. The Text to 911 feature should only be used in an emergency situation when speaking out loud would put the caller in danger or if the caller is deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech disabled.

The Capital Area Council of Governments has been working to bring this same system to Austin and surrounding areas. It was supposed to go live this year but officials with the agency say it is not ready yet.

April Najera lives in the Onion Creek neighborhood with her three kids and wishes she could have texted 911 during the 2013 floods.

“It would’ve helped because so many people were affected and I’m sure people were calling and on hold.”

A KXAN investigation last year revealed some people were on hold that night for as long as three minutes.

“It’s quicker,” Najera said of texting. “You’ll probably get a quicker response then sitting there waiting for someone to finish talking on the phone.”

Officials with CAPCOG declined KXAN’s request for an on camera interview, but said they expect to have the system up and running by this time next year. Officials also said the working group behind the system has its next meeting this Friday. They will discuss best practices from other entities that have implemented texting.

Part of the holdup, CAPCOG said, is they want to be able to launch the system to all 10 of its counties at the same time. The counties include Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson.

Networks can overload quickly during disasters making it harder to reach loved ones. Networks typically operate close to capacity, so during attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, systems become overloaded. Sending a text message uses less bandwidth, meaning if someone’s call fails, a text will more likely work. Cell phone customers pay a fee to help fund 911 operations across Texas, but the money does not always get spent.

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