Call if you can, text if you can’t

911 texting arrives in Kingsport


Calli Venzon

TEXTING FOR HELP. A student illustrates how to use 911 texting. The Kingsport Police Department recently introduced the ability to text 911 for Kingsport residents.

By Calli Venzon, John Sevier Middle School

An old lady has fallen on the sidewalk, the wind knocked out of her. Her leg is broken. She can hardly breathe, much less talk. Calling 911 is out of the question. Instead, she can now quickly text 911 about her emergency.

Texting 911 is now a service available to the residents of Kingsport.

“This is something that’s going statewide,” Lieutenant Todd Harrison of the Kingsport Police Department said. “The Tennessee emergency communication board that oversees all dispatch centers across the state is implementing text to 911 statewide. So this is something that’s not just Kingsport, but you will see in Sullivan County to Washington County, all across the state that’s being implemented.”

Harrison is currently assigned as the 911 director for Kingsport since March 2019.

According to FCC, “Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from your mobile phone or device.”

“We put in a new telephone system, which is AT&T Viper,” Harrison said. “And then once we got it in, we had to get in all of the routing and everything because we had to send the wireless vendors notifications that we are ready for texts to 911.”

Then, the vendors, like Verizon and AT&T, had to set everything up. Once they were ready, they let the 911 directors know, and then they had to go through a process of testing calls back and forth. It was a long process.

“I would [text] because I feel like they would get it in time for the emergency,” Kaylynn Blair, a seventh grade student, said.

But not everybody thinks this new service is a good idea.

“I don’t like 911 texting because there’s no point to it,” Ti-Esha Turner, an eighth grade student, said.

John Mallick, an eighth grade history teacher, would rather call than text, as well.

“[I] feel more comfortable in talking and explaining an emergency to a person,” he said.

A lot of people feel this way about the service. Only sixteen percent of millennials would text 911 instead of call if either option was appropriate in the situation, according to a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the National Institute for Health Care Excellence, or NICE.

While this attitude toward 911 texting is common, texting might be significantly easier for people who have hearing impairments or other disabilities.

“If you’re in a home environment, where domestic violence takes place, and you need to get help for your mother, your father, or whoever may be in that situation, they may turn that violence toward you for reporting it, but you are able to text 911,” Harrison said. “Where you couldn’t help but let the perpetrators know that you’re notifying the authorities, you can almost anonymously do it now through texting.”

However, in some cases, this system isn’t very effective. Sometimes the Wi-Fi doesn’t work or certain systems aren’t working.

“The preferred method is through voice in calling 911,” Harrison said. “Because [when] you text a message, then we respond, we have standardized questions that we have to ask in order to assess what’s going on. So from that perspective, asking all those questions, it’s much quicker to talk to someone than it is to text.”

Once people figure out what 911 texting actually is, Harrison hopes it will become an effective tool in the future.

“Remember that whether you’re calling through voice or using texting, make sure it’s an emergency,” Harrison said. “Because if you’re pranking 911 with a prank call, whether it’s a voice or a text, then you’re tying up a line that someone who may need medical resources and have a true emergency, it would prevent that person from possibly getting the help they need.”

This story was originally published on The Sequoyah Scribe on November 9, 2021.