New service lets you text 911 instead of call, but not in Ada Co.

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - The FCC is making it mandatory for cell phone providers to offer the "Text 911" service, which makes it possible for people to text message dispatchers about emergencies when they can't make a phone call.

The service makes 911 more accessible for people who are hearing or speech impaired. It could also help those in dangerous situations who can't make a phone call, for fear of being heard.

"We want to be able to answer those people as soon as we can," said Stephen O'Meara, Ada County's 911 Technical Operations Manager.

O'Meara says there is a need in Ada County for the texting service. But it's not possible because the dispatch center is housed in an outdated 36-year-old building.

"We've certainly hit our limits, both physically and even at the point of technology," O'Meara said.

O'meara says an entirely new, $7,000,000 dispatch center is needed to provide the technology it takes to answer 911 texts. If the Sheriff's Office gets the county's approval for a new dispatch center, "Text 911" technology could be up and running in just a few years.

The service would work like instant messaging. The texter and dispatcher would be able to type back and forth about details of the emergency, similar to what would happen if they were talking on the phone.

"It's a real game changer for 911," O'Meara said.