Racine County Communications Center

A dispatcher talks in 2018 to a person with a medical emergency while answering 911 calls at the Racine County Communications Center. In the county's 2020 budget, a provision is planned to implement text-to-911 capabilities. 

RACINE COUNTY — Kenosha County recently implemented a new way to contact 911 in the event of an emergency, and Racine County is moving to obtain the same technology.

Kenosha Joint Services, which serves the city and county of Kenosha, announced June 25 that text-to-911 capabilities were recently enabled for all cellphone providers that serve Kenosha County. Kenosha is one of a few counties, including Waukesha and Rock counties, to enable this service in southeastern Wisconsin.

Text-to-911 allows users the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from their mobile phone or device, according to the FCC.

That technology is not currently available for Racine County residents, but plans are in the works to bring text-to-911 capability to the county.

“We are not currently able to fully accept text to 911 at this time,” said Jackie Bratz, director of the Racine County Communications Center. “The phone upgrade planned for the 2020 budget does include text-to-911.”

Text-to-911 would be part of an approximately $500,000 technology upgrade for the Communications Center; but final decisions have not been made.

“We will be meeting in the next couple of weeks with the Finance and IT departments, working together as a team, to make the best, most cost effective decision for our operation, as well as for our customers, the citizens of Racine County,” Bratz said.

Calling still preferred

Although the text-to-911 capability is an improvement in technology, the FCC says that phone calls into 911 are still preferred.

“If you want help fast, call us,” said Mike Blodgett, public safety communications manager for Kenosha Joint Services, an independent organization that handles dispatch and other services such as squad car maintenance for Kenosha city and county law enforcement and fire and rescue departments.

Where text-to-911 could be beneficial, Blodgett said, is for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, for those calling from areas where cell service is limited and calls might not be able to be placed, and for those in situations where talking on the phone could place a person in danger.

If texting 911 seems like the best option, Blodgett said it is helpful to include in the message your location (including address, if possible, and the municipality where you are located) and a brief description of the nature of your emergency.

Blodgett cautioned that dispatchers are not able to pinpoint the exact location of texters.

Also, Blodgett noted, there is no guarantee that a text message will be delivered as intended. Those who do successfully transmit a 911 text to Joint Services dispatch will receive an automated return message confirming delivery.

Text-to-911 was one of the components Joint Services sought in a 2017 upgrade of its 911 software system. Joint Services then had to negotiate adoption of the service with each of the cell carriers that serve the area.

Cellphones from out-of-area regional carriers that are roaming in Kenosha County will not be guaranteed text-to-911 service here. Cellphones must also be on an active phone plan to text 911. Other messaging services, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, are not able to reach 911.

“We will be meeting in the next couple of weeks with the Finance and IT departments, working together as a team, to make the best, most cost effective decision for our operation, as well as for our customers, the citizens of Racine County.” Jackie Bratz, Racine County Communications Center director

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Kenosha News staff contributed to this article.

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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