Text 9-1-1 gives people new way to get help in case of emergency

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TOLEDO (WTOL) - Imagine you find yourself in a dangerous situation where speaking on the phone isn’t an option. Or you are hearing impaired and speaking over the phone can be challenging.

Now, you can remedy that by texting 911 in Lucas County.

Texting 911 for emergencies is something Lucas County Leaders have been working towards for a couple of years. Last fall, they worked in earnest to get the program running this spring. Today, it is ready to go.

Many feel the new text 9-1-1 program has long been needed in Lucas County.

Shannon Seger has been on a mission to make emergency services more responsive to those facing disabilities. She said previous 911 methods for those with hearing impairments were inefficient and unresponsive to their needs.

"I know there was one deaf person who saw a rape happen. He tried to text 911, but wasn’t able to get through. He wanted to report that to prevent it from actually following through and happening. But now, when they see something happen like that, they can immediately text,” said Shannon Seger, director of the Deaf Services Center of NW Ohio.

Yet making the program work for everyone was challenging. Dispatchers had to adjust to a completely different way of thinking when it came to responding to texts from hearing impaired persons. They had to work together to overcome language barriers and understand deaf slang and idioms.

"The person that did one of the tests used the term ‘car kaboom.’ And the call taker didn’t know what to do with that, and it was actually forcing us to take more time texting back saying “what do you mean? what do you mean?” What they were trying to imply was an accident. So they have a different language that we have to adapt to,” said Dennis Cole, director of Lucas County Emergency Services.

The program will cost Lucas County taxpayers around $15,800. Leaders say this program is the first step in a new generation of more digitally based 911 services.

"We have talked about pictures and stuff like that. Right now, we can't send that through. That's one of the future things that we'd like to be able to do is be able to see the scene, see what the condition of the person that's ill or so,” said Cole.

Around 1,900 911 calls flood into Lucas County Emergency Services each day, around 665,000 a year. Toledo Fire and Rescue crews find themselves responding to the vast majority of those calls, with their call volumes increasing each year.

Local first responders say they are excited for this new service and its ability to help more people find safety. Yet they want to stress the importance of using it for true emergencies only.

"Somebody may think it’s an emergency, but in the scheme of things, it’s not. So you know, somebody that has flu for a couple of days, flu-like symptoms for a couple of days, that’s more ‘call your doctor, see your physician’ versus somebody that has acute situation like chest pain. It’s obviously different,” said Sterling Rahe with Toledo Fire and Rescue.

Toledo Fire and Rescue crews respond to calls that run the gamut from life-threatening emergencies to minor health issues. First responders will handle calls no matter what, but they say erroneous calls impede their ability to do their jobs efficiently and effectively.

"We have to respond when called to, but hopefully we can educate the public on a true emergency versus one that’s not,” said Rahe.

Leaders say you should text 911 only if calling is not an option. Texting is a slower process, often three times as slow as a phone call, and can tie up 911 dispatchers. If you must text, be sure to include your name, location, and as many details as you can about what’s wrong so dispatchers can help as efficiently as possible.

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