PERRY COUNTY, Ark. (KTHV) -- Residents of one Central Arkansas county will soon be able to text 911 rather than call, but this isn't in Little Rock or one of the other big cities.
Perry County may only have about 10,000 residents, but its 911 call center is averaging 600 calls a month. And now, it is the first Central Arkansas dispatch center with the ability for residents to text 911.
"We kind of use the motto, call if you can, text if you can't,” said Alice Wallis, Perry County 911 Coordinator. "It's not designed to replace voice calls, really. It's kind of to be used in a situation that you can't do a voice call."
Many parts of Perry County are, well, rural. You wouldn't want to be stuck out there in an emergency situation without any cell phone signal. While you may not be able to get enough service to get a call out, you might still be able to send a text. That's one of the instances, their dispatch said, where being able to text to 911 could mean the difference between life and death.
"If we have intruders in our home, it would be a safety issue. You could text and not make a voice call. If you have a domestic disturbance; there's lots of different ways it is going to be better,” Wallis explained.
"For the younger generation it is going to be great because everybody texts. Everybody in the world texts today. Now the older generation, I think it'll help them a lot because it's a simple solution. They just hit the text. Another thing I think is going to be great is, because when you text, it goes in to a message, so you're not confused as to what that person is saying,” echoed Perry County Judge, Toby Davis.
It works just like 911, but instead of calling, you text the number 911.
"The first thing we need to find out is a location, just in case that's the only piece of information we can get from the individual. So we can get some help there, and figure out what's going on,” explained one dispatcher.
Since the dispatchers are able to text you back, they can use their headset to talk to first responders and text on the keyboard, which could greatly speed up the process. Lifelong resident Becky Olles said progress like this makes her proud of the county.
"You don't very seldom nowadays run across somebody that doesn't have a cell phone that is actually in their hand and being operated. I just think it is going to be awesome for the county and it's going to help so many people,” she said.
You may be thinking technology like this must be expensive, but Wallis said it actually comes at no cost to the county.
"It's just a matter of the telephone companies having it set on their end. We have to have the equipment that is ready for text. It actually channels through our TTY system. So we haven’t spent a dime to get it to happen,” Wallis said.
She said just because Perry County is a rural county, it doesn't mean they shouldn't have the luxuries of the bigger cities. Only this time they beat them to the punch.
Mayor John Roland agrees, adding he thinks Text to 911 will and should be a point of pride for the county’s residents.
"It's a progressive start. I'm glad that Perry County is taking a step in the right direction to try to stay on top of things," he said.
Text to 911 is available to both Verizon and AT&T customers.