Technology is constantly evolving, and technology in responding to emergencies is no different.
New technology is coming to the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center this year, including the ability to text to 911.
Jacob Saur, Chief of Emergency Communications 911 for Manatee County, said the text to 911 program is a “big tech advancement in Florida” that “no one is doing quite yet.”
While it may be at least six months before the technology is ready to be launched for the public, Saur said it’s good to get the word out now. He added a publicity campaign on the technology will come out closer to the release date.
It’s all part of what he called “next generation 911.”
The ability to text to 911 would be helpful in emergency situations where people may be trapped and can’t speak on the phone, Saur said. But it’s also helpful for the deaf community, which either has to use video phones or an old tone system to communicate emergencies.
“I definitely think it’s a benefit for the (deaf) community,” said Michele Cosengino, an adjunct professor of American Sign Language. “Especially because everyone’s got a smart phone these days and you know they’re ususlly on it. It seems to be the quickest way with someone who uses Sign Language as their language who can text,” Cosengino said.
However, she noted, ASL is a language of its own and does not always translate into English so it could be difficult to understand the typed message.
But the benefits of making the mobile connection — rather than using an older video phone and waiting for an interpreter — possible to 911 are a huge plus, Cosengino said.
Saur cautions that while texting will help in certain emergency cases, calling is still the fastest way to get help to your location.
Saur hopes the use of another technological advancement coming to the ECC this year will help save lives in the event of a cardiac arrest.
The ECC will begin utilizing PulsePoint, an app that will use the dispatching system to immediately alert CPR-trained people in the area who have the app of a cardiac arrest event and let them know where the closest automated external defibrillator is, according to PulsePoint’s website.
“They could say ‘I’m responding’ and they’re likely to get there quicker to start CPR,” Saur said. He added the app will tell them that an ambulance has been dispatched and en route with an estimated time of arrival.
Tina Boyers, CEO of Awesome Hands Health Services, said she thinks the PulsePoint app would be great if people are nearby, but it opens up those who help to liability issues.
“Are they susceptible to a lawsuit? I know they have Good Samaritan, but that doesn’t always work,” Boyers said.
She believes people may be afraid to respond to the emergency for fear of a lawsuit threat if something were to go wrong. Boyers worries that it also opens up an avenue for diseases to travel if the person performs mouth breathing or potential injuries to the victim if the Good Samaritan presses too hard.
Saur said having someone who knows what they’re doing is better than nothing until an ambulance arrives.
One advancement the public won’t immediately notice is a switch in Automated Secure Alarm Protocol (ASAP) to Public System Answering Point (PSAP) systems. This, Saur said, allows alarm centers to electronically send alarm calls directly to the county’s Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD). Rather than the alarm company calling in the address and telling 911 operators what’s going on, the alert will be sent straight to the CAD.
The switch should cut response times by a minute to a minute and a half, Saur said.
But taxes won’t increase to cover the cost of the equipment, according to Saur. It’s already covered by paying a phone bill.
“When you pay your cell phone bill there is a 40 cent charge,” Saur said. “That 40 cents you pay is a tax called 911 fund tax. We get that money from the state and that’s what enables us to bring that technology in. The funds come from you paying a cell phone or landline bill.”
Purchase orders were submitted to finance Tuesday night, but it may be fall before the public sees the technology put into action, Saur said.