Hawaii implements 911 text service

Officials said the text service will allow deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired communities the ability to effectively contact 911

By Rosemarie Bernardo
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU — Hawaii residents can now send a text message to get help in an emergency.

The state officially launched the new “Text-to-911” service Thursday. Texts are limited to 160 characters. An active wireless service including a text or data plan is required, with device location activated.

The service might not be available on wireless devices in roaming mode or outside the service provider’s coverage area. Currently, the service is available under AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.

Hawaii is the seventh state to implement Text-to-911, following Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Indiana, North Dakota and New Jersey.

Deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired communities are embracing the new service. Billy Kekua, president of the Aloha State Association of the Deaf, said, “We are relieved that we have the ability to call 911 independently and at any time. We don’t have to wait anymore. Every moment is precious and all lives are important.”

Kekua, 38, of Waianae, was diagnosed as deaf when he was 1.

He had used teletypewriter relay service once for an emergency. It took several minutes until an interpreter became available, Kekua said. Otherwise, he generally relied on family to call 911, or he would dial 911 and leave the phone hanging so the operator could locate the address and send someone.

“So I believe that texting is the fastest way to contact. I can tell them where I am at, why do I need the emergency service, etc.,” he added.

Courtney Tagupa, executive director of Hawaii’s Enhanced 911 Board, said texting 911 can save lives in a domestic violence situation or home invasion. The service provides a way to seek help where a voice call could cause more harm, he said.

In the first week of the Honolulu Police Department’s soft launch in December of Text-to-911, police radio dispatcher Ah-Lan Leong recalled how she received a text from a female who reported she was beaten up by a male. “She texted 911, and we were able to get the information from her. He was sitting right next to her. And we were able to send officers over there and make an arrest.”

Leong said the most important information to text to 911 is your location.

Since the soft launch — as more residents are becoming aware of the service — the Police Department is receiving some 150 to 160 texts a month.

Tagupa said, “It’s a great service. I feel my family is safer as a result.”

Each county underwent extensive testing of its system before Thursday’s launch.

Officials said the cost for each county for current upgrades to its computer-assisted dispatch systems and infrastructure to receive text messages is presently closer to $4 million. Upgrades are ongoing.

Copyright 2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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