There's a federal plan to make it possible for people to text emergency dispatchers, but no systems are in place here, said Kurt Mills, executive director at SNOPAC, one of two primary emergency dispatch centers in the county.
"If someone tries to text 911, it never comes to us," he said. "It never gets past the cell provider."
There's a misperception that people can text 911 in an emergency, said Greg Lineberry, an Everett police captain and chairman of the Snohomish County 911 advisory board.
"We want to make sure people know upfront that it isn't a capability that we currently have," he said.
Texting is just one point of confusion as more people abandon land lines and rely solely on cellphones, Lineberry said.
Some people also assume that a dispatcher can immediately pull GPS data from their phone when they call 911, Lineberry said.
In reality, a dispatcher can sometimes get a rough approximation -- but not always. The best way for police and fire crews to find the emergency is for the caller to provide a location over the phone, he said.
Around the nation, some high-profile crimes have gone temporarily unreported because someone assumed a text to 911 would go through, Mills said. Pictures sent via text message also get lost.
It could be up to a decade before Snohomish County has an emergency-texting system, Mills said.
Even then, other communities that are testing emergency text systems have created an alternate number rather than 911.
SNOPAC wouldn't let a system go live until they are sure it would be as reliable as traditional 911 telephone service, Mills said.
SNOPAC will embrace a 911 style texting system when it's safe and when the technology is in place, Mills said. Government agencies still need to sort out how the system would work, and what the legal and privacy implications might be.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to use 911
Don't call for: information or directory assistance; if you're bored and want someone to talk to; need to pay traffic tickets; are reporting power and other outages (unless there is danger from downed wires).
If you call: Answer all questions; don't hang up; follow instructions and try to provide a precise location.
If it's a misdial, don't hang up. Tell the dispatcher what happened so she'll know there isn't an emergency.
For more information, go to http://tinyurl.com/making911work.
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