When Christopher Foster receives a phone call, he knows to be ready for anything.
“It could be a simple thing as someone locked themselves out of a car or it could be somebody has their ten-month-old and they’re not breathing,” he explains.
911 dispatchers demo new text message feature (video)
Foster is a communications supervisor for the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office. He works out of the 911 dispatch center in Canandaigua.
Emergency response through text messages
The office has continued to evolve in how it deals with the fast-paced nature of emergency response, said Foster. The option to text emergencies to 911 was first introduced back in 2016.
“If someone can’t speak we encourage them to text 911 we like to verify their location, we can have a conversation, just like talking but with texting and it keeps them safe,” Foster said.
Dispatchers can now initiate texts
The Sheriff’s Office is taking the texting feature a step further. They can now initiate a text conversation with you.
“We can actually text back,” Foster explained. “If we have any follow-up questions, if the call is ended we can actually text and initiate the call to have some follow-up questions if the deputies can’t get into the door for whatever reason.”
Next-generation 911 capability is a priority for the department
Chief Stephen DeChick says it’s part of a next-generation 911 capability aimed at improving how they respond to calls. He says it’s about finding better ways to serve the public.
“If somebody calls 911 and they hang up, or their phone calls without them knowing it, our policy has been to call back and say, ‘This is the 911 center you dialed in, is everything alright?'” DeChick said. “If the phone goes to voicemail we never really had any way to further communicate with the person until now.”
For Foster, this means more peace of mind while he’s at work trying to decipher what callers need.
“We’re always wondering, ‘Is this a legitimate call?'” Foster said. “Is this an emergency where the person can’t actually talk to us anymore for whatever reason? Now we can actually initiate and they can actually text us back and now we know if it’s an accidental call or if it’s a true emergency.”