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Crittenden County adds texting 911 capabilities

WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. -- Inside the Crittenden County 911 center, dispatchers are always hooked up and ready to answer the call for help.

But now, there’s a new way they can answer.

“We just added the text-to-911 capabilities into our dispatch center,” coordinator Ronnie Sturch said. “We like to be cutting edge. We like to be on the forefront of new technologies.”

County officials said they applied for permission through the Federal Communications Commission in April. By law, cellphone providers must give users 911 text access within six months of that application. Crittenden County officials said they tested it last Friday to make sure it worked.

“AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are 100 percent capable," Sturch said.

Crittenden is the seventh of 75 Arkansas counties to add the feature, Sturch said.

People from anywhere in Crittenden County, except West Memphis, can now text 911 for help. They said West Memphis runs its own dispatch center.

West Memphis Police said they recently added 911 texting capabilities but have not made it fully operational yet.

Agencies said they could add it easily on top of previous teletype capabilities for the hearing impaired.

Sturch said Crittenden County didn't have to pay any additional funds to add the texting feature.

“It's like regular texting on a cellphone. That’s how easy it is,” Crittenden County senior operator Carolyn Dabney said.

Officials stressed phone calls were still preferable to text messages because callers can relay important information a lot faster.

But, texting can be an option for people who may not be able to make a phone call, in the case of a medical emergency or an active shooter.

“If you’re in a hostage situation and you can’t talk, this will be the best way to get ahold of someone,” Dabney said.

“Maybe a stroke victim can’t speak but still have ability to utilize that feature,” Sturch said.

Neither Memphis nor Shelby County offers texting capabilities for 911, officials said.