Officials discuss 911 texting service in Charlotte

by: Jacqueline Fell Updated:


CHARLOTTE - Texting 911 could save lives if local emergency call centers could receive the messages.

Only York and Cabarrus counties have that capability in the Charlotte area. Eyewitness News reporter Jacqueline Fell found out why legislatures are not fast-tracking the service.

Lise Hamlin is hearing impaired and relies on her two hearing aids.

“I have called 911 at times when I’ve been on a noisy street and I cannot hear what the other person is saying,” Hamlin said.

She was glad the Federal Communications Commission voted Friday to give cellphone companies until the end of 2014 to allow users to send text messages to 911.

“If I could have text where I could go back and forth would be hugely helpful,” Hamlin said. “That would be enormously helpful.”

The FCC chairman said requiring cell providers to enable 911 texting could be the answer when a voice call is impossible or unsafe. One commissioner voted against the FCC plan to enable 911 texting, saying there can be tragic consequences if the 911 technology does not do what the person sending the text expects.

“The order is sure to result in massive consumer confusion and therefore will endanger rather than advance public safety,” said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.

Only 2 percent of emergency dispatch centers are actually equipped to handle text messages. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will be one of them.

“We can’t come help you if we don’t know where you’re at,” said Capt. William Boger with the CPMD Communications Division.

Emergency call centers will have to pay for technology that can carry conversations over text. They may also have to create protocols and train staff.

Ninety-one percent of American adults own a cellphone, and billions of text messages are sent per day. For someone like Hamlin, this technology could be life-saving.

The FCC requires a bounce-back message if someone tries to text 911 and it is unavailable.