A big change is on the horizon for anyone unable to call 911 due to a voice or hearing disability: text messaging.
Last May the FCC required Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile to make texting 911 available. It's now up to 911 call centers to see it through, but so far only 59 of the 6,000 centers have completed the process.
Spokane County is in the process of implementing new software, and residents are already excited to use it.
“I wouldn't have to worry about my life if I really needed some help,” said Char Parsley, director of Nexus Inland Northwest.
There are currently several different methods for persons with hearing loss to contact 911, but most of them are outdated and none of them are mobile.
“If I was at home, I would pick up my video phone. It's a machine that's connected to my TV, connected to a relay service and I can see an interpreter on my TV,” Parsley explained.
Being able to text 911 would also be beneficial in situations where a person is unable to use their voice, like during a home invasion, but 911 operators say a traditional phone call will always be their preferred method of communication.
“Text messaging does not come with a location,” said 911 dispatcher Lorlee Mizel. “We would have no way of knowing where that texter was needing assistance if they couldn't communicate that.”
All cell phone carriers will be required by the FCC to have 911 texting available by the end of the year.