Jefferson County neighbors can now send a text message to 911

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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Neighbors who live in Jefferson County can now send a text message to 911 for help, leaders announced Monday.

“We’ve been getting ready for the last year, doing some training and getting up to date,” said Lee Gaither, with Jefferson County 911.

Gaither said the county will use the service called Texty to allow communication between dispatchers and a reporting party.

It has already been put to use in the past two weeks, Gaither said. One family sent a text when they believed an intruder was inside their home.

“They were hiding in the closet. It was them and the children. They had them in the closet and they continued to text back and forth to our telecommunicator until we got deputies on the scene,” said Gaither.

The text messaging service will be a major benefit to neighbors living with challenges like being deaf.

“Whether it is a hospital or police-related, it is still a difficult time to get through a relay system. If you want a quick answer, it is much easier to text,” said Beth Overland, who is deaf and lives in Jefferson County

Overland works with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services. She told CBS 42 about a time she had to make an emergency call in another area that did not have the text message capabilities.

When seconds can mean the difference between life and death, even waiting for an interpreter can make a big difference.

“I had to actually sit down and wait for an interpreter to show up on the screen, and it took a couple of minutes and of course that delayed things,” said Overland.

Overland, the Alabama Association for the Deaf, and case managers with the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind were excited to hear about the changes and hope other departments follow suit.

“The full access that we would have would be just valuable to have. We are excited to see the change for the better,” said Overland.

The city of Birmingham already uses a text to 911 service. In Jefferson County, neighbors are still encouraged to call 911 when possible.

Gaither explained that conversations with a live dispatcher can often be more effective, but added the text service will provide additional resources for all citizens.

Dispatchers will be able to use the new technology to determine where a message is coming from.

“It comes with an enhanced mapping program, so we can also map where the person is texting from so we’ll know also their location,” said Gaither.

Gaither said an automated message will be sent if the service is unavailable so that neighbors know to call for help.

To learn more about Jefferson County 911, click here.


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