One night when he couldn’t sleep last year, Horry County Police Chief Joe Hill checked the HCPD’s social media accounts.
To his surprise, there was a message from a woman who was being held against her will. Hill had to work with dispatchers to get the woman help. At the time, the county's 911 system could not receive text messages.
That’s not the case anymore.
On Tuesday — the 29thanniversary of 911 service in the county — officials announced that those in an emergency can text 911.
“This is just another tool to bring to our public to keep them safe,” Hill said.
Over the last year, county staffers have been working to implement the system, including months of testing.
“Most importantly, this technology is going to provide for our hearing impaired community and we’ve worked very hard to address that for them,” said Renee Hardwick, who heads the E911 center. “We’re really glad to be doing this so they can communicate on the devices they use every day.”
Adding the text messaging system cost the county just under $92,000. Although the service will primarily benefit the hearing impaired, county officials said there are multiple uses. Hardwick mentioned a case in a large city where someone called 911 about a friend who was threatening to commit suicide.
“The friend didn’t want to talk to anybody,” she said. “They were able to initiate a text message with this young individual to get him to talk and accept help. You’ve probably heard me say this if you’ve been around awhile: Any technology, any process that we do, the first life we save, we’ve got our money back for it.”
As more people communicate via text, Hardwick said it’s important that the county’s system adapt to the technological changes.
“We have to continue to be moving forward,” she said. “Our world is ever changing. The problem we have is that 911 technology is very old — the background of it — and we’re trying to catch up.”
While the county’s 911 system can process texts now, the system is not designed for transmitting video and photos yet. Hardwick also stressed that in an emergency situation those contacting 911 via text should use clear language.
“It is important that you text full words,” she said. “Not slang or abbreviations or emojis. Everybody has different level of understanding of those things.”