2 Alaska towns allow texts to 911 when calling not an option

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Residents in Wrangell and Petersburg now have the ability to text 911 for help when calling isn’t an option.

“It’s been working out excellent,” Petersburg Police Department Chief James Kerr said. “It’s designed for the hearing impaired or domestic violence situations. If you can’t talk to the dispatch, but you need help, you can text.”

A third-party provider helped implement the technology with the two police departments.

“One of the really big benefits I see with this is for search and rescue,” Kerr said, noting Alaska’s rugged terrain can make it difficult to get a call signal. “But you can send a text through. It gives us GPS coordinates and everything else.”

The Juneau Police Department is also investigating a similar system, Lt. Krag Campbell said in an email to the Juneau Empire.

“It is something we would like to add into our 9-1-1 system in the future as we work towards upgrading in the next few years,” Campbell said. “New technologies in law enforcement are always being presented as additional options, as well as managing current systems that require upgrades and maintenance. As with all of our technology projects, we need to have the staffing to manage the process and the funds to pay for them.”

Campbell noted texting 911 could be useful in active shooter situations or other situations where speaking into the phone would give away someone’s position.

Currently, the option is only available to AT&T or GCI customers, Kerr said. Texters using other providers get a message that the service is not available.

No one has texted police yet with the new service, other than kids trying to make a prank. However, the text sent to emergency services also comes with the texter’s location, allowing police to arrive at the kids’ location and caution them not to misuse the service.