Texting 911: Exclusive look at new way to get help in Cuyahoga County

CLEVELAND-- Starting Saturday, you can get help from 911 in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County by texting, and the FOX 8 I TEAM is getting the first look at how it will work.

County dispatchers demonstrated it for us. They hope people still dial 911 and call first. But anyone will still be able to reach out for help without saying a word.

To send a text to 911 in Cuyahoga County, just put 911 where you would normally put the phone number for a text message. After you type in your message, a dispatcher will write back asking for your location. The dispatcher will also ask if it’s possible for you to call. If it’s not possible to call, the dispatcher can type responses back to you or simply click on a series of responses and questions already loaded into the computer to save time.

In Cleveland, the I TEAM has found the dispatch center often short-staffed. So how will dispatchers handle all the calls coming in along with text messages?

Again, the county says it hopes citizens text 911 as a last resort. Shawn Smith, from CECOMS, also said, "We don't expect a big influx with the texting. Because primarily, when people are in emergency situations, they like to have that voice contact."

You should also know texting 911 will take a little longer than texting your friends. The messages can take up to a minute going back and forth through the dispatching system.

Nonetheless, the system could be a lifesaver for the hearing-impaired, or someone held hostage or hiding from a gunman.

While the system starts Saturday in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, it’s not up and running everywhere. 911 centers nationwide are slowly implementing the technology.