January 18, 2022

Putting text 911 to test

County debugs system for full implementation in June

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

Cortland County dispatcher Scott Magee types as he relays a call to emergency personnel. The department will fully roll out text 911 to residents in June.

Cortland County Emergency Response and Communications quietly rolled out its text 911 systems so the department can check for bugs, make sure texts don’t drop and dispatchers can learn the software.

“Basically we just keep playing with it,” Director Scott Roman said Thursday. “I’m usually the one texting in. The software is not new, but it’s just new to us.”

The system is operational, but the county is holding off on full implementation until June, when college students are on summer vacation, Roman said.

“That way, we have the summer to adjust to it with less of a population,” he said.

Roman said there have been no major problems, so far.

How it works

Type 911 in for the contact information.

“It will come back and say you have reached Cortland County 911 and what is the address of your emergency and then it goes back forth with the dispatcher,” said Scott Roman, Cortland County’s emergency response and communications director. “Location is the most important thing to us so we can figure out where you are.”

It was $30,000 project funded from two state Department of Homeland Security grants that were $1 million each.

Roman said that so long as the county keeps the service a $300 maintenance cost will also be funded Homeland Security.

Cortland Police Chief F. Michael Catalano is happy people will have another alternative, especially in cases where someone cannot safely call police. He noted this will become a great tool for people in domestic violence situations.

“Sometimes it’s safer to text to get an officer than call,” he said.

He noted that in many domestic violence cases, the offender will destroy the phone if the victim is seentalking on it.

He also said it could work in situations where someone is in a crowded or noisy area.

However, Roman said one of the reasons he wanted to get the system was so people with hearing or speech disabilities would have a way of contacting emergency personnel.

“It’s an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance thing,” he said. “Your cell phone will allow you to communicate even if you don’t have your hearing aids in.”

Roman said the cool thing about the county’s system is that the software is integrated into the county’s 911 system and not a separate stand-alone system.

“The dispatcher doesn’t have to turn away from one system to another,” he said.

Roman said he expects less activity than what Onondaga County gets — a couple hundred a month.

Tompkins County implemented its text 911 system in January, said Jessica Verfuss, the assistant emergency response director. The department uses a free web-based system called GEM 911.

She said the only issue with the website is that there is no activity for a while then dispatchers can be logged out of the system.

“Other than that, it works,” she said. “We are looking at other similar vendors to see if there is a better product out there.”

Chenango County implemented text 911 last September. Cayuga County’s text 911 service started in 2015.