Sonya Clauson, public information officer for the Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network (GHC911), updated attendees at the Kingwood Positive Interaction Program (PIP) meeting May 21 regarding services now available. She concentrated on the ways users of 911 can help provide critical information to first responders when emergencies occur.
“911 is not just three numbers anymore. We have come a long way. It’s not just knowing what numbers to call for an emergency. The number one reason is you all have different types of phones. Over 85% of our calls are from cell phones,” Clauson said, and explained that the predominance of cell phones means providing the most accurate location information possible is more critical than ever. That means reporting specific location information is essential, including nearby road intersections or stores or buildings in the immediate area. She noted that even though technology keeps getting better, cell phone location determination is still only accurate up to within FCC minimum standards of 50 or 100 meters in many areas. 150 to 320 feet of variation can result in confusion and delay for first responders, especially in an area the size of this 911 network.
“GHC 911 includes everyone in 49 cities, two counties – Harris and Fort Bend – and in some surrounding areas and includes 5.6 million residents. It is the third or fourth largest emergency network in the nation,” Clauson said.
Two major features now available are improving the service: Texting 911 and the creation of emergency profiles.
“We have had texting services here for over four years,” said Clauson. “We were the first major metropolitan area in the country to provide Text 911 service. What that means is you can simply put in information about the emergency in the first text that you send to 911. However we do not encourage you to text 911 just because you prefer texting. It is not the same as calling 911,” said Clauson.
She explained that the limitations of texting are the same as they are for other text messages. They may not contain clear or enough information without asking for more clarification and they take longer to send and receive and then to respond back to confirm the information.
“A text message to 911 takes about five or six times longer than a voice call and information may be lost,” Clauson said. However, she also explained that there are cases where texting is better. She pointed out those situations are where one is hiding from a threatening person or trespasser in the location from where one is calling. Clauson said a good way to choose which way to contact 911 is to remember: “911: Call if you can. Text if you can’t when it’s not safe to talk.”
The other feature available to help in emergencies is the emergency profile. Clauson suggested everyone create a free emergency profile before an emergency occurs. She explained that the emergency profile contains essential information and can also include any other important information one wants to provide to assist first responders and the 911 call taker. It is secure except when requested during the course of a call by the 911 agent taking the call from a registered phone. Relevant information one thinks might be important includes pet information at the home location, security system information and any special health or disability information, including essential medicines needed by residents. Clauson advised that those interested in signing up should go to 911.org and create a password-protected emergency profile.
The Kingwood PIP meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Kingwood Church of Christ, 2901 Woodland Hills Drive, Kingwood. It is open to the public and all residents are welcome. Both HPD and the Kingwood Service Association’s Public Safety Committee encourage area residents to attend and participate.