The matter of keeping up with current technology is prompting county workers to investigate whether Arlington’s 911 system can soon upgrade and add a texting option. While it appears texting eventually will be added to the mix, it isn’t imminent.
“Certainly texting is something we want to get to, especially when someone is in a compromised position where they can’t talk on the phone,” said Arlington County Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown. “It’s something I believe is in the future.”
A few communities across the country — such as parts of Tennessee, Iowa, North Carolina and Vermont — have implemented or are experimenting with “Next Generation 911.” The Federal Communications Commission — which in 2010 held a press conference at Arlington’s Emergency Communication Center touting Next Gen 911 technology — announced in December that the top four cell phone carriers in America agreed to speed up the availability of the service, ensuring that 90 percent of the country’s cell phone users would have the capability by May 2014.
Although cell phones will be enabled for emergency texting, few 911 dispatch centers have the ability to receive texts. The Next Gen 911 systems are largely in their infancy and gaps exist to such a degree that officials in Arlington prefer to wait until the technology becomes further perfected.
“We want to put our money and time into the right place the first time,” said Emergency Communications Center (ECC) Deputy Commander Jeff Horwitz. “Prematurely, a resource could be more harmful than waiting to release it. So we’re really nervous about people sending texts to 911 before it’s ready.”
The current programs do not have provisions to allow 911 dispatchers to immediately determine a text sender’s location like they can with a phone call. Some communities moved forward with the texting system even without the ability to pinpoint where an emergency occurred, but Arlington is not willing to take that risk. Additionally, the texting system doesn’t allow dispatchers to determine if a person is quietly awaiting more instructions or if the emergency has resolved itself.
“When you hang up, our system knows you dropped a call. When you text, I don’t know when you’re done. Are you there? Are you being attacked? Are you unconscious? I don’t have any info telling me your call is dropped,” Horwitz said.
Perhaps the most pressing concern surrounding emergency texting is the inability to communicate immediately with callers. Although situations arise in which callers cannot speak to dispatchers, such instances are relatively rare. Typically, dispatchers are able to get more information from callers, soothe them and even offer potentially life saving assistance. It would prove far more difficult for dispatchers to help someone administer CPR, for example, if the person attempted to text while doing chest compressions.
“We really like to be able to talk to the people,” Brown said. “I can just envision someone texting 911 and someone trying to text back instructions. We haven’t worked that out yet.”
Both Horwitz and Brown stressed that implementing a flawed system could prove disastrous. Arlington had a glimpse into the seriousness of a failed 911 system during last year’s derecho, and nobody is interested in repeating that type of scenario.
The students, fifth-grader Keishu Watanabe and his sister, second-grader Saho (both seen in the video, below), moved from Arlington to Tokyo with their parents just weeks before the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Northern Japan earlier this year. With a personal connection to the disaster, “graduating” fifth-grade students and parents at Tuckahoe decided to raise money to help the victims.
Tomorrow, starting at 7:00 p.m., the school will host an “Anime Movie Night” featuring a screening of Ponyo, the Japanese adaptation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The family-friend film has been dubbed into English, thanks to the voices of Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, Matt Damon and Betty White.
The screening is free and open to the public, but children must be accompanied by an adult. Donations, raffle proceeds and bake sale revenue will go to the ‘Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Fund.’ Kids are encouraged to wear pajamas and a yukata (robe), grab some glow necklaces and munch on arare (Japanese rice crackers).
Even though they’re halfway around the world, students at Keishu and Saho’s new school are so excited about the fundraiser that they banded together to make Tuckahoe a Senbazuru, a large hanging of 1,000 hand-made paper cranes. The gift — a symbol of peace and friendship — was sent to the school, where officials are now deciding on a prominent place to display it, according to Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.
Five years ago, Suzette Walker was stranded inside her empty apartment building in New Orleans. Flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina had surrounded the building. For eight days, Walker survived in an apartment hallway, until she was finally rescued via helicopter.
Now a “proud Arlington resident,” Walker recounted her survival story for the county-run Arlington Virginia Network. She recalled how she had a suitcase packed when Katrina hit, because she had been booked to go on a Carnival Cruise later that week. She also recounted how the kindness of a stranger helped her survive the ordeal.
Walker made it to Arlington by accident. She was on a flight to Houston to stay with family when the captain announced that Texas was no longer taking refugees and that the flight was now going to Washington, DC. Arlington, Walker said, put out the welcome mat after she arrived and she has been here ever since.
Watch the nine minute video, which includes actual footage of Walker’s helicopter rescue, below.