Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

When Text Messaging Is a Lifesaver. . .

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — December 25, 2007 — Sick of those folks who are always fiddling with the cell phone?
It might be time to rethink your attitude – that text message their reading could be the difference between life and death.
Thanks to new technology introduced at the Sullivan County 911 Center this August, the details on every fire, accident or downed wire is going out via text message to the county’s emergency crews.
It’s a program that could save lives, according to Alex Rau, Sullivan County’s 911 coordinator.
Because of the county’s mountainous terrain, the 911 center ‘s voice data calls to fire and ambulance volunteers can’t reach every nook and cranny.
There are just five towers used by the 911 center for voice communications.
By comparison, there’s at least a dozen cell phone towers in Sullivan County – three in Rock Hill alone.
What the 911 Center is attempting, Rau said, is to piggyback off of the cell towers and increase its abilities to stay in contact with emergency volunteers.
“If you’re inside of a building – even if you’re inside of a firehouse ironically – it can be a lot harder to receive a signal [using voice paging],” Rau explained.
Using Peck’s Market on Main Street in Jeffersonville as an example, Rau said a fire pager would likely be unable to pick up the signal sent out by the 911 center if a fireman were inside picking up dinner.
The county towers closest to Jeffersonville are in Liberty or Tennanah Lake, Rau said, and the signal loses strength as it travels.But with a cell tower on Swiss Hill in Jeffersonville, and the fact that text messages require less of a signal to pick up, the same fireman would likely get the warning on his cell and make it to the scene of an emergency more quickly.
Since August, fire and EMS volunteers have been given the option of signing up for the service – it’s optional in part because not all wireless carriers allow for unlimited text messaging.
Nevertheless, the program has proven so popular, Rau said there are 430 numbers on the 911 Center’s list.
When a call comes in, the caller’s name, address and the details of their state emergency automatically go into the center’s computer aided dispatch system.
“It’s like a big, glorified database if you will,” Rau explained.
Now the system simply pulls up the cellular numbers of the department needed to respond, and the texts are sent automatically – with every detail arriving almost instantly on the screens of the firemen or ambulance workers.
“It’s very successful,” Rau noted.
At a recent emergency volunteer function, a member of the Rock Hill Department said the program’s reliability has made his fire pager redundant.
“He told me, ‘I don’t even carry my voice pager anymore,’” Rau said.
After 12 years with the 911 Center, Rau is still impressed with what can be done – affordably and quickly.
“From where we’ve gone to where we’ve come is amazing,” he said.

top of page  |  home  |  archives