Travis County launched a 911 text system last year. So how’s it going?

Text to 911 (KXAN Photo)
Text to 911 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A few months have passed since many in Central Texas have been able to start texting 911, and while dispatch centers are still working out some issues, they’re confident it will be a useful tool. In fact, hundreds of people have already taken advantage of the service, including an 11-year-old girl who got in contact with a San Marcos Police Department dispatcher.

The dispatcher said the call started as a phone call about an active verbal disturbance, but then got disconnected.

“The caller began to text 911 shortly after disconnecting and was able to get us to a correct location and was giving us detailed information from inside. The complainant was an 11-year-old little girl whose mom was in a physical altercation with a man that the little girl was afraid of. She did it in secret in her room. We were able to get help to the family.”

Travis County executive Josh Davies shared that story with the Travis County Commissioners Tuesday morning while giving them an update about the 911 text system. The initiative rolled out in the fall of 2017 under the guidance of the Capital Area Emergency Communications District. It serves 10 Central Texas counties including Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties and the city of Austin.

Since the launch, dispatchers have received 744 text messages to 911, Davies said. Those text messages to 911 make up less than 1 percent of the total 911 voice call volume received. The majority of them were accidental texts, including text messages issued by various smartphone apps and home automation systems. Still, Davies said it’s not something to worry about.

“We expect it,” Davies said. “It’s pretty typical of voice 911 calls, too.”

Other concerns about the system include the fact that 911 text messages do not always identify a caller’s location. Plus, photos, videos and group messages are also not accepted with the texting service. Law enforcement says when in doubt and you need help “Call if you can, text if you can’t.”

Davis says texting 911 for help may be key to helping domestic violence survivors or those like the 11-year-old who are not in a safe place to voice an emergency call. When asked if the service is working, despite the accidental texts, Davis said “I think if nothing, out of 744 calls, a domestic violence situation was resolved. So yes, it’s a success whether it’s one call or many.”

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