People in Franklin County now can text 911 dispatchers in emergencies


If you're experiencing an emergency in Franklin County, you now have the option of texting a 911 dispatcher.

Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown, who chairs a county-wide 911 planning commission, said it's always better to call when you can and text when you can't. First responders said there are plenty of instances where silence is the best weapon.

Last February, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Students who called 911 dispatchers spoke in a whisper, afraid to be overheard and give up their location. Dispatchers struggling to understand repeatedly said, "Hello? Hello? I can't hear you."

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Columbus Police SWAT Lieutenant Paul Ohl said information is vital when law enforcement is responding to a report of an active aggressor. A description and location of a suspect and weapons, the number of people who are injured, whether the gunman is working alone, carrying a backpack, driving a getaway car — it's all vital information to help officers stop the threat and save lives. However, Ohl, who has taught active aggressor survival to about 8,000 central Ohioans, said he tells people to silence their phones and maintain "noise discipline." In other words, don't make a sound.

"The text option gives them a tool to give clear and concise direction to us that we can act upon, said Lt. Ohl.

Tuesday afternoon, first responders and Franklin County leaders gathered to reveal the new "Text-to-911" option that works on cell phones and tablets. Dispatchers can communicate with you, asking questions, receiving clarity, without ever speaking a word out loud.

Community leaders said the technology is valuable to the hearing impaired and Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin said texting 911 could often be a safer option for a person caught in the middle of a domestic violence dispute.

"So many times in a domestic violence situation, if you pick a phone up and you make a phone call, the other party is really agitated and it can really set them off, whereas everybody texts — It doesn't draw as much attention," Baldwin said.

To learn more about how text-to-911 works in Franklin County, click here.