Text-to-911 services now operational in Linn County

A demonstration of Linn County's new text-to-911 service at the Cedar Rapids 911 Center on Tuesday, December 5.

"911, what's the address of the emergency?"

Those words were spoken by a dispatcher at the Cedar Rapids 911 Center on Tuesday - and words most of us would hear when dialing the number.

But what if you can't hear? For people like Jennifer Upah-Kyes, making an emergency call herself hasn't been an option.

"In emergency situations that my kids need something, I want to be able to call myself rather than have to rely on them and relay information through them," Upah-Kyes said through a sign language interpreter on Tuesday.

"I'm an adult. I'm deaf - but I don't want to rely on my children."

Now Upah-Kyes - the executive director of Deaf Iowans Against Abuse - won't have to depend on others for emergency calls, and neither will the more than 35,000 Linn County residents that have some level of hearing loss.

Linn County is now using a text-to-911 system - one of the the 95 of Iowa's 99 counties with the service. The goal is to have the service available across the state by the end of the year.

Upah-Kyes worked with Cedar Rapids 911 Center manager Charlie McClintock to help determine details of the system.

"We talked to her and said, 'What do we need to do on our end to do better, to receive those calls and to process those?'" McClintock said after a demonstration of the service on Tuesday. "That was an important piece of what we did because we knew that was going to be the majority of the calls that we received."

McClintock says there are three situations where text-to-911 should be used:

- If you are deaf or hearing-impaired

- If the emergency doesn't allow you to make a voice call

- If you are unable to use your voice

"It's not just for deaf and hard of hearing or people with a hearing loss," Upah-Kyes said. "You have military vets with hearing loss. There's a lot more than we realize that can benefit from this."

McClintock stresses that a voice call to 911 is still the ideal option in emergencies. Fake texts to 911 are illegal, just like fake calls to the line.

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