CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, NJ —The Cape May County Office of Emergency Management is now able to accept 911 text messages from individuals who encounter an emergency and are unable to speak on a telephone. This capability is part of the upgraded state-of-the-art equipment and technology approved by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The County OEM partnered with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services (OETS) to test the latest technology over a six month period.
“This is an unprecedented public safety initiative for the residents and visitors to Cape May County”, said Cape May County Emergency Management Director Martin Pagliughi. “We anticipated the need and began the process with NextGen 911 systems three years ago, this allowed the County enough time to provide the necessary testing with the State to ensure our system was ready to go at the time of the launch of the statewide 911 texting system”. NextGen911 is an initiative aimed at updating the 9-1-1 service infrastructure in the United States and Canada to improve public emergency communications services in today’s growing wireless mobile society.
The OETS launched the “Call When You Can, Text When You Can’t” program that provides the public with the option to text in an emergency situation at times when talking on the phone is not practical or possible. Individuals are simply asked to open the message app on a phone or other wireless service, type in 911 with no punctuation in the “to” field, and type in the address and the situation in the “message” field before hitting “send”. No photos or videos may be texted. The text is accepted by a State-managed website and directed immediately to Cape May County Emergency Dispatch who instantly contacts local police with the conditions of the emergency for rapid response.
“The County’s continued investment in this new technology is substantial, but necessary”, said Ann Marie Ricco, Chief of Cape May County Telecommunications. The County will be purchasing additional 911 emergency equipment that will accept not only text but also video and photos from the public. This service will be available once cellular phone carriers complete their necessary improvements.
Individuals are being asked to text 911 instead of calling 911 in situations that include, but are not limited to, active shooting situations, such as the recent night club shooting in Orlando, Florida. Other situations to use the texting service include when peer pressure is too strong to place a call, or a lack of service makes it impossible to make a voice call, among others.
If you own a cellular phone in New Jersey, a monthly surcharge appears on your bill that was intended to be dedicated to improving 911 communications services throughout the State. Due to budgetary shifting, the State currently allocates only a small percentage of the surcharge fees for the improvement of these services.
“This is an issue that deserves very strong attention and consideration by legislators in our District, and throughout the State”, Pagliughi said. “This NextGen 911 initiative is a clear reason why the State needs to obey its own policies and regulations and dedicate this funding to emergency services, especially since technology changes on a daily basis”.
“The purchase, maintenance, and utilization of this system is another reason why Cape May County’s centralized dispatch will provide improved services at a reduced cost for local municipalities”, said Cape May County Freeholder Gerald Thornton, who oversees Cape May County Emergency Management and the Office of Communications. “The County has the means, technology, and ability to provide additional services at a reduced expense for municipal taxpayers. Municipalities who are not involved in countywide dispatch will have to make significant investments in technologies in order to offer this service”, Thornton added.