Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pick up the phone and call

When you need emergency services, the instructions are pretty simple: pick up a phone and call 911.  I used to say dial 911, but I can't seem to find a phone with an actual dial anymore.  Despite this simplicity, however, more and more people seem to expect that they can summon the police, fire, and other emergency services with a text message.  Actually, Durham, NC has been engaged for about a year in a trial of this, during which they received precisely one (1) text message: to report an audible alarm sounding.

There are some significant drawbacks to text messages, in the public safety field.  This short article lists some of those, but if you're really geeked out, the long story lays it out in excruciating detail.  Suffice it to say that for the time being, and at least for the next several years, an actual telephone call is by far the most effective way to engage a public safety emergency response.  There may be some value in tapping in to the texting phenomenon, especially for the police, but when the chips are down or lives are at stake, nothing comes close to a phone call for getting the cavalry on the way.


ARRRRG!!!! said...

I,m still new at text messaging.

Steve said...


You could probably text the pirate alphabet even with a hook for a hand.

Steve said...

I used to think texting was such stupid way for two people to communicate. My thought was you can talk so much faster than you can write, so why waste so much time? Then, I paid attention to a couple of my wife's phone conversations. Now, I think women should be required to text, rather than talk.

Anonymous said...

I have used a Cell phone for many years PLUS for a land line I use MAGIC JACK. Magic Jack is improving constantly but it still has glitches at times. A few weeks ago, at about 3:00 AM, I called 911 to report what sounded like gunfire. I got a busy signal--- twice. So I called dispatch on their non-emergency number. I gave dispatch the information about what turned out to be fireworks and also the 911 problem. I am positive the problem was with my computer or Magic Jack not LPD's phone system. However anyone that relies on Magic Jack should be aware the system still has bugs.
Gun Nut

Steve said...

Gun Nut:

So, was it glitch, or a bug? :)

Either way, it's a good thing it wasn't gunfire you heard.

Anonymous said...

Last time I called 911 to report a fire, the operator spent 5 minutes arguing with me as to where I was. Needless to say in that 5 minutes I could have put the fire out myself and saved everyone a headache. A text message would have forced the operator to dispatch a fire truck to check it out instead of telling me that I was wrong.

Steve said...

I've met a lot of people who didn't know where they were, but I can't wait to hear an explanation for this one (2:51 anon).

I'd bet it wasn't really five minutes (things always seem to take forever in an emergency), and I'm curious if you used a land line or cell phone, if the fire was at your home, or some other place, and how well you explained the situation to the 911 operator.

Anonymous said...


It was 5 minutes. The fire was in the ally of the house of a good friend. It was a cell phone - I stopped using a land line 4 years prior to that date even - the fire was one of 8 started in that ally and the fire department simply rolled down from one to the next to the next. Less than 24 months earlier there was an arson that burned a garage down with a $85,000 car in it less than two blocks away. Like I said the operator wouldn't believe me as to where I was even though the fire department was calling back in saying there's one every other house!

Don't even get me started about the car accident I was involved in during the big snow storm last Feb. Police response was over 20 minutes, and when someone asked the officer if it was a busy day he forgot he was supposed to cover for himself and said "no not really".

Or then there was the time that I called in a LPD officer with car# after he cut me off merging going 55 in a 35 to get around me and beat the stop light we just came through only to slam on his breaks and that time dispatch told me "he was out to get the bad guys and they needed to sneak up on them". Excuse me? I was in my 30's by then, you can use adult language and say something other than "bad guys". When I asked if she knew what address they were going to I got "well, no I don't but I'm sure they had a reason". Like maybe the cop is a jerk????

All my point is that dispatchers are great, but please don't make them out to be some kind of God that they aren't. Sometimes they make really stupid mistakes, and it doesn't even always happen here in Lincoln, I once called in a severe injury accident in CO and the dispatcher there asked where I was and I gave the mile marker and interstate, only to have her say no, you're on this other interstate (that was 3/4 of the way across the state from where I was). They are human and that flaw I've seen in other parts of the country as well. When you put them into the situation of having to go out to check things out instead of just pressing the "easy" button and badgering the people on the other end of the phone maybe some of these things wouldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4:10: My 30+ year old kids in law enforcement still refer to criminals as 'the bad guys' and so do their parents! The criminals certainly aren't GOOD GUYS, now are they?

Steve said...

Anon 4:12:

You seriously think a 20 minute response time during a big snow storm is too slow? You know, we don't have cops on every block in town, don't you? Did you expect them to come code three on snow packed streets?

I'm still highly doubtful of most of your story, but I appreciate your attempt to convince me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:26 - I get that criminals are bad guys and I believe we need a police force. My only concern is when they break the law themselves and there is NO recourse for the average citizen to report them, and their own bush it off. Seems like it could be a corrupt situation at the very least.

Steve - I consider 20+ minute response to an accident that is blocking 3 of 4 lanes on a MAJOR road in Lincoln a long response time, no matter what the weather is. Funny that there was an accident at the same intersection last week and was witnessed by an off duty state patrol officer. SPO called it in and within 3 minutes there was another SPO and LPD wasn't far behind (even though SPO doesn't respond to accidents in the city limits usually and LPD is supposed to not any more either). Kind of makes me concerned when you start seeing time differences like that. My other concern was the fact the responding officer said he just didn't make it a priority call. Thus back to my argument that there seems to be a lack of accountability of some on the force/dispatch. I agree that we will likely never see eye to eye, my hope is that the next time some idiot runs a red light and slams into the side of your driver door at between 45 and 50 MPH that help gets to you faster than 20 minutes later, and before your neighbors have to sweep all the glass and car parts up so traffic can move through the intersection again, and that if a registered first responder calls it in dispatch listens to them, unlike what happened in Feb. If those things don't happen I hope you can walk away from the accident like I did and have questions but no serious long term effects.

Steve said...


It seems your experiences are far different than most of mine. Perhaps your attitude has something to do with it. I think if you expect the worst, that's what you'll get. As for LPD not responding to accidents, I think you need to get your facts straight. That proposal was changed some time ago, and it never did include injury accidents. As for comparing time differences, you'd need far more data to support any conclusion that police responded faster because it was an LEO that called it in (not two incidents).

I was once broadsided by a semi doing about seventy, and almost before I realized what happened, there were EMTs, sheriff's deputies, firetrucks, ambulances, and police everywhere, and this was three miles out of town.

Maybe you're just one of those people cursed with bad luck.

Paramedic/Ditch Doctor said...

The only time I would ever text you, LPD is when I am being kidnapped/home invaded and don't want to scream into a phone :P About response times, I have called in 6 incidents on my cell (off duty) since moving here and they have never been longer than 3 minutes. Thank you LPD.