Officials in Waukesha County on Friday held a demonstration of the county's new Text-to-911 service.
The Waukesha County Communications Center is the first dispatch center in Southeastern Wisconsin allowing people to send text messages to 911 instead of calling.
County officials said the texting service can be useful to people who are hard of hearing or with a speech disability that have trouble communicating by phone.
It also makes it easier for someone in a dangerous situation, who can't call and speak freely to a dispatcher, to report an emergency.
"We've had several instances where someone believes somebody broke into a home and they're afraid to talk," said Lt. Thom Moerman, of the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department.
County Executive Paul Farrow added one thing texting 911 does not do is automatically provide a dispatcher with the texter's location.
"This doesn't have the GPS location like the 911 calls," Farrow said. "So we say call first if you can, and if you can't send a text."
The system also doesn't allow for the texting of pictures or videos. But it should work with all phone models and service providers.
All 911 calls, and now texts, made in Waukesha County come through the communications center, which dispatches services to 32 of the county's 37 municipalities.
The center receives some 82,000 911 calls each year. About 85 percent are from wireless numbers, county officials said.
Gary Bell, Director of the county's Department of Emergency Preparedness, said Waukesha County's Text-to-911 system is the first in the state built at a public safety-grad level. That means it can withstand an emergency like a natural disaster.
"We can lose this facility due to man made or natural occurrence and still be operational," Bell said
Other communities around the state already offering a 911 text service include Sheboygan County and Dodge County.
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