Cal Poly students now have the option to text 911 for help during an emergency. The same service has been available for about a year in San Luis Obispo County but almost no one uses it.
The service was implemented last October as a way to enable people who are hearing and speech impaired to call for help.
"It’s also for situations where it’s too dangerous to make a phone call," said SLO County Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla.
Once a person texts 911, dispatch signals law enforcement to help but that’s not happening in SLO County because, according to the sheriff’s office, virtually no one uses the service.
"We’ve received about 30 text to 911 calls," Cipolla said. "Most are people wanting to text the system and see if it works."
Cipolla said dispatch did receive one legitimate call in the past 10 months about a fire, but he believes most people are simply unaware a text option exists.
"I know 911 texting exists in some localities and not others, but I didn’t know it existed here," said SLO resident Diane Barney.
Like Barney, many people say they didn’t know about the service but think it could be useful.
"If you don’t want to have someone hear you, say you’re out to eat and someone is making you uncomfortable, you can just text instead of call," said SLO resident Natalie Lockhart.
As Cal Poly students return to campus, they can now text 911 for help from campus police.
It’s an option Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said in an email to KSBY is a way to increase campus safety.
Gurpeet Sahan, a SLO resident working in the mental health field, believes the state-funded technology could be pivotal, especially for younger generations accustomed to texting, if it’s used.
"I work with teens that struggle with verbal communication so texting is easier," Sahan said.
In areas where the text 911 service is not available, the FCC requires phone carriers to send a bounce-back message, notifying the person the text did not go through.
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