Smart 911: Text messaging available before end of the year

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County 911 dispatcher Adam Lumsden works at his command center Monday. Text messages can now be sent to 911 and the dispatcher will respond with one as well. There are other improvements to 911 expected to happen around the first of the year.

ALPENA — There has been an upgrade to the Alpena County 911 system which allows it to communicate with people who need help via text messages. It is only one of several upgrades that could be made before the end of the year.

Interim 911 Director Roy Wekwert said the texting feature is up and running and it allows people the option of texting their emergency to the dispatch center. Once the test is received the dispatchers are able to respond with programmed responses and simple questions to learn more about the situation. Wekwert said the texting feature will work in situations where the caller needs to be secretive or silent.

“If your house is being broken into or you’re in a situation where a person is next to you and you don’t want them to know what you’re doing it will work well,” Wekwert said. “It also is a good way to call for help if you are in an area where there isn’t good cell reception. You may not be able to make a call, but a text can go through.”

Wekwert said the next project will be to upgrade to Smart-911. He said the state of paying to have the new system installed and will open the doors to helping identify the person who needs help, their health history, blood types, as well as other information about them.

Wekwert said people in the county can fill out profile pages and provide information about themselves, so first responders and dispatchers can use it if needed. He said people can include layouts of their homes and even include any pets they may have.

“We will have a better understanding of the person and their circumstances before we get to them,” Wekwert said. “That is important and helps to have a plan in place before we arrive, and speed up the process.”

There is also a chance that the county will choose to pay to incorporate a high tech RAVE upgrade to the Smart-911. Wekwert said the RAVE system allows people to sign up for notifications on their mobile devices and 911 to issue warning and updates. He said it is so sophisticated that alerts can be customized and sent out to people in select locations or areas.

“Let’s say there was an issue at the hospital and it needed to be locked down,” Wekwert said. “We could issue the alert to the people there and let them know they need to take action. We could also send out large notification blasts during emergencies.”

The Alpena County Finance Committee is expected to discuss purchasing the rights to use RAVE at Wednesday’s meeting. Wekwert said the initial investment would be $5,000 and then $3,000 a year afterward.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.