RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – It’s a new way of communication that’s launching in Rutherford County. “Text to 911” services began this week, and it gives callers who can’t speak another option to alert law enforcement.

Inside the Communications Center, it’s business as usual.

“Okay, are they in the roadway?” dispatcher Abagail Badgett asked into her headset. “Okay, is there an airbag deployment?”

Now, a new tool is right at their fingertips, making it easier to connect residents to help.

“I’m texting them there and then I’m creating a card to get them help at the same time,” explained Badgett. “It’s easier because most people prefer (to) text, especially in domestic (violence) situations. We’ve had a lot of people where they would rather text than call because then their aggressor doesn’t know about it.”

On Tuesday, the Rutherford County Emergency Communications District launched the “Text to 911” service across the entire county. The goal is for the system to be used in special situations.

The following are examples of when the system would be used:

  • A human trafficking victim can’t risk calling 911 for help so she waits until the trafficker sleeps and quietly texts 911.
  • A domestic violence victim fears for her life, but is scared to alert her attacker so she texts 911.
  • A 16-year-old home alone hears someone breaking into the home and texts 911.
  • A hearing and speech-impaired resident experiences a medical crisis and texts 911.

“If it’s a domestic situation, it is easier to text because I don’t have to yell and get their attention and get them to focus on me instead of the situation at hand, because sometimes for people it’s a lot, having the domestic situation or the fight or somebody’s at the house that they don’t want,” explained Badgett. “We can text them; they can pay attention to that, but still pay attention to us at the same time.”

Once the caller starts to text 911, the messages will appear in the dispatch center. The dispatcher will then be able to text back and forth with the caller to get more information without ever having to speak on the phone.

“A person could be in a situation where they’ve been assaulted and they are trying to reach 911 to get assistance, but they do not want the assailant to know that they are trying to reach for assistance,” said Cassie Lowery, director of the Rutherford County Emergency Communications District.

The advanced technology pushes the county forward. The goals are especially focused on helping those who are hearing and speech impaired.

“Yes, I think it’s important because it’s going to help everyone, but it’s something that’s been really needed for the hard-of-hearing community; they used to have TTY and now they’ve had to go through relay systems, and it’s a delay in service, and as I tell people in an emergency, they need help now,” said Buster Brown, RCECD assistant director.

The new channel of communication is not meant for regular use, but for special situations.

“You have situations where someone just cannot speak, now the message is called ‘Call if you can; text if you can’t,'” said Brown.

The department is encouraging callers to remember these steps when using the “Text to 911” service if there is an emergency and you are unable to make a call:

  • Don’t Text and Drive
  • In the first text message, send your location and type of emergency
  • Text in simple words
  • Send a short text message in English, without abbreviations or slang