Starting next week, borough residents can text 911 in an emergency
People in the Kenai Peninsula Borough can soon text 911 in an emergency. The Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center is rolling out Text-to-911 service Jan. 16 for any emergency caller in the borough that is unable to place a voice call for help.
Tammy Goggia-Cockrell is 911 emergency communications coordinator for the SPSCC, which fields emergency calls in the borough outside Kenai, Homer and Seward.
“Text to 911 has been available for several years and has been deployed in many agencies across the nation,” she said.
In Alaska, Wrangell and Petersburg already have Text-to-911 service. Goggia-Cockrell said it's something the Soldotna center has been looking at for years but that it took them a while to get all the technological components in order.
She said the dispatch center is still encouraging people call in case of an emergency.
But there are a few situations that warrant texting 911 — like if a caller is in a domestic violence or active shooter situation, or if they’re hard of hearing or voice impaired.
Goggia-Cockrell said they’ve already been able to put the system to use, even though they haven’t gone live yet.
She said they got a text while they were running a system test, from someone who had gotten in an accident out of cell range. They had the newest model iPhone that allows texts to be sent via satellite.
“I’m excited about areas like that in the Kenai Peninsula Borough where there are still areas that don't have adequate cell coverage,” Goggia-Cockrell said. “We have many accidents on the Sterling and Seward highways.”
It will be a little slower for dispatchers to respond over text than on the phone. That’s because they’ll have to type and send questions back and then wait for answers, depending on the scenario.
And Goggia-Cockrell said the service should only be used when calling 911 isn’t an option.
“When time is of the essence — call if you can, text if you can’t,” she said.
Text-to-911 is available to anyone in the Kenai Peninsula Borough beginning Jan. 16. Dispatch centers in Kenai, Homer and Seward will field their own calls, Goggia-Cockrell said.
To use the service once it launches, text your location and type of emergency help needed to 911. Messages should be concise and should include text, only; no pictures or emojis. Goggia-Cockrell noted the service is only available to wireless users when they’re in range of a cell tower, unless their phone has emergency satellite capabilities.