Lawmaker wants Missouri on track to next-generation 911

Some Missouri lawmakers think you should be able to send text, photos, videos, or data to 911, and they want to put the state on a schedule to achieve that goal.

Representative Lyle Rowland (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Lyle Rowland (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

A House Committee has been asked to consider House Bill 1094, offered by Cedarcreek Republican Lyle Rowland after he was approached by a friend who sits on the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  He was told people who are deaf could use text to communicate with 911 operators.

Rowland’s bill would require the Advisory Committee for 911 Service Oversight to develop a plan and target dates for Missouri to test, implement, and operate a next generation 911 system.

“This will provide our deaf communities a way of getting emergency help when it’s needed,” said Rowland.

The Committee heard from Opeoluwa Sotonwa, the Commission’s executive director.  He explained what it could be like for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to use 911 in most of Missouri.

“A hard of hearing individual who speaks may be able to share his or her needs, but may not be able to hear questions being asked.  I may not be able to understand what action others are taking if I cannot hear them speak.  Moreover, I am not able to speak directly with a 911 operator,” said Sotonwa through an interpreter.  “You can count the resources used to track a suspect, evaluate the cost of replacing a house, and tally deaths of those who cannot receive help fast enough, however what is not measureable is the fear, insecurity, and indignity of the Missourians who are not able to access 911 services because our state’s technology is simply outdated.”

Representative Bruce Degroot confirmed as true what Sotonwa said would happen if, in most of Missouri, a person sends a text to 911.

“I did exactly as the witness suggested and texted 911, letting them know it wasn’t a true emergency, and sure enough I got a message back,” said DeGroot.  “’Make a voice call to 911 for help.  Text to 911 is not available.’”

Steve Hoskins, the Vice President of Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, told the committee his organization also backs the bill.  He said a next generation 911 system wouldn’t just help those with hearing problems.

“What if you’re calling 911 but the reason you’re calling is because you’re choking and you can’t speak?  That’s why we need this kind of technology,” said Hoskins.

No one spoke against Rowland’s bill.  The committee has not voted on it.