Need 911? They May One Day Be Only a Text Away

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Lincoln, Neb.-- Texting police in an emergency, sending them photos or videos of a crime scene - all of it may be possible.

However, there's some concern that it will complicate the work dispatchers do to try and save lives.

It's a national movement called Next Generation 911, one that the Federal Communication Commission is working closely with.

"If someone is robbed," Julie Righter, the communication director the the Lancaster County dispatch office, said, "and you have someone sending you, as you're taking the call of a robbery that just occurred, that suspect - police have that."

Currently, about 1,200 calls funnel into the Lancaster County dispatch room every day, handled by a staff of 55 people.

Introducing text and video to dispatchers is something they've never dealt with.

"I think it makes a call taker and dispatcher's job much more complicated," Righter said, "and it's already a really complicated technology driven job."

Some of the technology has already been in place for years. People can already send images into police via e-mail or Crimestoppers, but they can't send them directly to dispatch. That option won't be available in the near future.

"It's only valuable if you have the time and ability to look at it and use it and assimilate it," Tom Casady, the public safety director, said.

"That's where we're a little bit lacking right now."

The Public Service Commission (PSC) asked a third party to study Nebraska's current 911 call network and gauge how well the state is equipped to handle the transition. The study, released Tuesday, found the current framework in Nebraska is incapable of handling a statewide network for the Next Gen 911 system. But, there is enough to form the basis of the new system.

The study now has to go in front of lawmakers to decide the next step. The PSC would be responsible for oversight, but they don't have the legal capability in Nebraska - yet - to do so. That's up to the legislature to decide.

The other hurdle to clear is the perception that texting police may be abused, for example, the possibility that people will text minor issues that may not necessarily warrant police attention.

"There's nothing faster or more reliable," Casady said, "than picking up the phone and calling 911 when you need help in an emergency. And, I think that will remain so indefinitely. I don't ever see that changing. It certainly won't change in my lifetime."

Casady can only describe the time frame as "long" for when citizens will be able to text 911 in an emergency, as well as send photos/videos. Right now, there are a lot more questions than answers, especially when it comes to how dispatchers relay information they receive to officers on the scene.

But, the dispatchers know they need to be ready.

"We teach it," Righter said, "and eventually it becomes part of our normal processes. But, yet, this will have to be another thing that they'll have to learn."

The full study can be found at the PSC's website here: