MUSCATINE — Muscatine County Joint Communications manager said residents can text for emergency aid, but making a phone call for help is best.
"It is important to remember, however, that if you can, you should call the 911 center," Christopher Jasper said in a news release. "We are able to receive and relay information faster through a phone call. But, if you cannot call, we now have the ability to respond to text messages."
Iowa's E911 Program Manager Blake DeRouchey said the initial rollout of the service began in June 2017 in Muscatine County, but additional testing was required to get the service up-and-running from cellphone carriers.
Jasper said MUSCOM recently completed the additional testing, allowing residents with cellphone service through AT&T, i-Wireless, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon the ability to text for help.
"Even though we have the capability to receive and respond to text messages," he said in the release, "it is still better to call if you can."
Ninety-seven of Iowa's 99 counties have 911 call centers capable of receiving text messages, according to the state's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Muscatine County neighbor Scott County and Pottawattamie County on the western border are the only counties without the service.
HSEMD reported text-to-911 was first developed for individuals who are deaf or hearing or speech impaired, but the service does allow a person to contact emergency personnel when a phone call could cause that person harm such as a home invasion or domestic situation. Texting 911 could also be helpful to those with a medical emergency or condition where they are unable to speak.
HSEMD also reported Iowa citizens may eventually be able to contact 911 by video and picture messaging through the state's IP-based 911 network. That service is not available and individuals contacting 911 should not send emojis, videos or pictures with their message.
Jasper has been a MUSCOM dispatcher since 2010, the Muscatine County Joint Communications Commission announced, and accepted the management position last week after serving as co-manager since April. Jasper replaces former manager Beverly Griffith. Jasper holds an AAS in business management from Muscatine Community College and numerous emergency dispatcher certifications.
While the option to text does offer another way to make contact with emergency services, the system is delayed compared to a phone call so HSEMD advises "call if you can, text if you can't."
For more information, visit the Text-to-911 page on the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management website.