If eclipse crowds in Idaho affect emergency calls, 911 texting an option in some counties

In more than a half dozen counties in Idaho, you can now text 911 for help.
In more than a half dozen counties in Idaho, you can now text 911 for help.

At least eight Idaho counties offer 911 texting as an option to those who need emergency assistance.

It’s a service that helps those who are hearing/speech impaired as well as those who can’t call because it might put them in jeopardy (intruder in house) or who are experiencing jammed lines (during an eclipse, for instance).

Ada and Canyon counties don’t yet have 911 texting but some of the outlying counties do, including Washington and Payette counties.

It could come in handy when there’s an influx of visitors to Idaho for the eclipse Aug. 21, Payette County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Creech said Thursday. The high volume of people in the region using their cellphones could overwhelm the system, he said.

“If you’re not going to be able to make a voice call, I’m hoping you can at least get a text message out,” Creech said. Data show that 89 percent of people in his county who call 911 are using cellphones.

In the two years since Payette County added 911 texting, it has received just two real texts for help and a number of “butt dials.” Both of the real 911 texts were critical situations, Creech said.

One case was someone reporting a very drunk person about to drive away in a car.

“The person was obviously in the same room as the other person,” Creech said.

He said officers found the driver within a block of that house, and the person was found to be so intoxicated that he was charged with excessive DUI.

Boise County Sheriff Jim Kaczmarek said the county has been working toward adding 911 texting for over a year, and it should be in place by year’s end. He said that although cellphone coverage is very limited around the county, there is a lot of Wi-Fi access.

In June, Ada County unveiled a new 911 emergency dispatch center 945 E. Pine Ave. in Meridian. The county doesn’t yet have timeline for when it will offer 911 texting, a sheriff’s office spokesman said.

“We want to make sure all the tech at our new 911 dispatch center is good, and our dispatchers have adjusted to their new environment before we take that project on,” Patrick Orr said. He said the county will be studying best practices by other agencies across the country.

Canyon County is also exploring the option, said Joe Decker, a spokesman for the county.

“Our dispatch manager said one of the issues is that the providers don’t have a way of providing an accurate location on text messages,” Decker said. “So the person texting would either have to include the location or call in behind the text to provide the location.”

Sgt. Kim Chipman of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said emergency personnel prefer that the public call, rather than text, if they can.

“We can get more information that way,” she said. “And it’s a little faster.”

Other Idaho counties/agencies that offer 911 texting include Kootenai County, Benewah County, Blaine County, Bonner County, Bonneville County and Jerome County, according to a national registry.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller