Indiana introduces "text to 911" plan

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Many of us carry cell phones, and one-third of Americans prefer text messages to phone calls. But in one-third of Indiana counties, if you need emergency help, calling 911 is the fastest way to get it.

Dispatchers in 60 counties have the technology to handle text-to-911 and the goal is to expand the service statewide. Indiana is one of the largest states so far to offer the service.

The 911 call center in Bartholomew County averages 400 calls a day. Dispatchers like Mike Gorbett play a critical role in getting help to people quickly.

"We like to say we're the first first responders," he said.

Most calls come in on cell phones, but starting Wednesday, they can also be texted.

About 15-20 seconds later, the test message pops up on Gorbett's screen and he types a reply. It does take longer than a phone call.

"Phone calls are still the best. They'll give us the best information and best location of where you're at," he explained.

But texting 911 is a huge advance for those who are deaf, unable to speak or fearful of being heard.

"I think sometimes we'll actually get people reporting stuff they wouldn't report if they had to call in and talk to somebody," he said.

Bartholomew County, home to Columbus, is one of the first counties to launch 911 texting in Indiana.

It was news to those at this coffee shop but also seen as a good move.

"I can definitely think of times where it's either not expedient or it would put you in danger to have to voice out loud your concerns for everyone including potentially the attacker," said Clarissa Wilson, Shelbyville.

"For me, probably a phone call, but if I couldn't get through on the phone call, texting would be able to go through after," said Jay Cole, Columbus.

Ed Reuter, head of the emergency center, believes as the system improves, 911 texting will take off. He notes it comes at no cost to taxpayers.

"There's no cost to local counties whatsoever. The cost is actually being taken in from the State 911 Board in Indianapolis," said Reuter.

Text-to-911 isn't available right now in Marion and the immediate surrounding counties. However, the City of Speedway and the Indianapolis International Airport will have it in two weeks.

Find out if your county is participating.