We know what to do in emergencies.
Your house got broken into: call 9-1-1. Someone started seizing in front of you: call 9-1-1. The water pouring into your house has reached waist level and your furniture is floating around you like giant bath toys: call 9-1-1.
But sometimes there are so many people calling 9-1-1 that you can’t get through. Sometimes a voice call would put you in more imminent danger. Or you are deaf and it impossible to tell dispatchers the “nature of your emergency.” Calling 9-1-1 is not helpful in these situations.
Now there’s another option.
Text to 9-1-1 services are newly becoming available in many areas. The Travis County district, which includes Austin, just announced its Text to 9-1-1 service on Oct. 5. The acquisition of these capabilities was imperative for Travis County, and continues to be for every county in the United States that lacks them. Text to 9-1-1 saves lives where calling is impossible or exceedingly difficult.
The Capital Area Council of Governments, responsible for Text to 9-1-1 rollout in Travis and many other Texas counties, markets Text to 9-1-1 as being essential “if you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, or if a voice call might otherwise be dangerous or impossible.” CAPCOG also notes that texting 9-1-1 is an option if phone lines are overwhelmed, meaning it is important in large-scale emergencies.
This information must be highly publicized. If the public does not know that texting 9-1-1 is an option in emergencies, the service is absolutely useless.
Travis County’s updated emergency advice is: “Call if you can, text if you can’t.” Calling 9-1-1 is still the fastest method for dispatchers to get the information they need, but when calling is not an option, dispatchers say the most efficient text to 9-1-1 should include all of the following information: your address, your name, the nature of your emergency and a description of the suspect if crime is involved.
Kids need to learn this in elementary schools. This information should be specifically marketed toward the deaf community. It ought to be in newspaper ads, in billboards around the city and in local TV commercials. It must come to mind as easily as the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Click It or Ticket,” or Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something.” Everyone needs to know their options.
In light of recent events, Text to 9-1-1 information is especially important. Though Houston has had Text to 9-1-1 for a couple of years and has made efforts to market the service, dispatchers saw no real uptick in texts to 9-1-1 during Hurricane Harvey. Instead, when callers were put on hold by emergency dispatchers, some turned to social media to request help.
That was a burdensome decision, according to a Houston 9-1-1 dispatcher who worked during Harvey. He said over email, “When callers go to social media, multiple people call in the same event.” All of these calls tied up the lines, making a hard situation worse.
If a large scale emergency like Harvey were ever to hit Austin, we need people to know that texting 9-1-1 is their next best option, and aggressive marketing is the way to accomplish this.
This is another reason why “Call if you can, text if you can’t” ought to roll off the tongue as automatically as “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” This article is one student’s effort to publicize this information. But it’s not enough.
So, to the UT community and Austin area: Call if you can, text if you can’t. Learn it. Repeat it. Know it. In times of dire need, in emergency situations, you have more than one option to get help.
Doan is a Plan II and English junior from Fort Worth.