RICHLAND, Wash. - When you're in an emergency there's usually only one option to call for help: by calling 911. But as technology presses onward, so are dispatch centers. Soon, you'll be able to text to 911.
This added service will particularly be helpful to people with hearing or speech disabilities. But, it's also keeping up with the times.
"The majority of people text. So we're trying to move into the future with the rest of technology," said Jim Barber of the Southeast Communications Center.
Washington State lawmakers have been working on getting the right equipment in place for some time now.
"Two years ago the state increased their 911 taxes from 50 cents to 70 cents and that was to posture the state to have the ability to accept the new technology such as text messaging, photos and streaming videos," Barber said.
There are test programs across the country. Now, the top four mobile phone companies (Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel Corp, T-Mobile and AT&T Inc) have agreed to set up the service on their end.
In a statement from AT&T officials said "the voluntary framework that was proposed builds on industry work already underway towards achieving a comprehensive framework for our customers to be able to use text messaging services to communication with 911 emergency responders."
Industry standards should be in place by the end of 2013.
"In the future they'll be able to take a picture of an accident or they can take a streaming video of a crime in progress and send it to the 911 center so the law enforcement or firefighters can have their eyes on the situation immediately so they know what they're responding to, they know what the circumstance is," Barber said.
Barber said at the earliest, text-to-911 would be available in the Tri-Cities area in about a year. Mobile carriers will provide an automatic 'bounce back' text message by June of 2013 if text-to-911 is not available in the area.