Dispatch centers in Bonner, Shoshone and Kootenai counties, as well as the Post Falls Police, can now receive emergency text messages. However, the dispatch centers can only receive texts from those with plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon and Comcast, according to a news release.
"Dialing 911 in an emergency is still the preferred way to request help, and the public is being reminded to Call if you can, text if you can't," the release says. "Time is critical in a life-threatening emergency, and customers should be aware of the differences between calling and texting 911."
When and who should text to 911:
• People who are hard of hearing or who have a speech disability
• When speaking out loud would put the person in danger, such as an abduction, home invasion or domestic violence incident.
The announcement comes two days after John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight released his segment on 911 dispatch centers.
"They system can break down more than you think," Oliver says. "And when it does, people can die as a result."
He gives an example of a newspaper delivery woman who careens into a nearby pond. 911 dispatchers couldn't find her location, and it took 20 minutes for first responders to arrive.
"She died because a system we expect to save our lives failed her," Oliver says, adding that the case is not exactly unusual. He points to an FCC report that estimates improved 911 accuracy could save more than 10,000 lives per year.
Oliver sites another report that says 70-80 percent of all 911 calls come from cell phones, which contributes to dispatchers' inability to locate the person in need.