SYCAMORE – DeKalb County didn’t have a central 911 service until 1993, when it implemented the enhanced 911 – or E-911 – system, E-911 coordinator Glenna Johnson said.
Before then, Johnson said, anyone who needed to contact emergency services needed to dial a 10-digit phone number.
Now, Johnson said, the county is looking to spearhead an upgrade to the system with 10 other northern Illinois counties, which would allow residents to send text messages to 911.
Johnson said the next step is to add the ability for residents to send photos and live video streams to 911. But, she said, that’s still way down the road in the Next Generation 911 – or NG 911 – implementation process.
Johnson said that the county needs to ensure that it is complying with state regulations before fully implementing the first phase of the NG 911 system that accepts text messages. She said there’s no set date for rollout yet, because as the first of the 11 counties looking at the regional system upgrade, there’s no way to anticipate what roadblocks the county might face in the process.
Johnson said that texting would be a good supplemental feature to add to the system, since there might be instances where someone might not want to make a voice call to 911.
“Like if you got a burglar in the home, you’re hiding in the closet and they could text us, and we would be able to text them back,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she doesn’t anticipate a huge learning curve with dispatch staff for the incoming system. She said she expects it to be fairly intuitive for staff to learn the newer features, since they’re using the same company for NG 911 that they used for E-911.
DeKalb County Sheriff Sgt. Steve Rubeck said the system upgrades will be a big help to the dispatch center to receive information more quickly in some emergency situations, such as a burglary. He said county sheriff officials still will urge residents to call 911 if they can during an emergency, but encourage them to text 911 if they can’t call.
Rubeck said voice calls still provide additional contextual clues for 911 operators on the severity of a situation. With a voice call, he said, dispatchers are trained to listen for other red flags, such as glass breaking, yelling or other signs of a scuffle.
“You’re not going to get that with a text message,” Rubeck said.
Johnson said the upgrades to the county’s current 911 system are not because of any problems with what’s already in place. She said that system by itself is already reliable.
“But we want to get into the future,” Johnson said.