Continuing to carve out a space at the forefront of the technology, Gulf County Emergency Management now has text 911, allowing folks in emergency situations another avenue to bring assistance.

 They can not only hear, but see you now.

Continuing to carve out a space at the forefront of the technology, Gulf County Emergency Management now has text 911, allowing folks in emergency situations another avenue to bring assistance.

Say, a person, especially a child, is trapped in closet during a home burglary, the slightest noise an alert to the bad guys.

They can now text 911.

A county dispatcher will see the alert on their console and will be able to reach out and assist as needed.

“The line will remain open and we’ve got you until the situation is resolved,” said Ben Guthrie, county 911 director.

The county is among the first in Florida to have the technology and part of the first regional system in the state to have to the technology; that status will be important in a few minutes.

Identifying where the phone is remains an issue.

“We can not get a location,” Guthrie said.

Outdoors, most current phones contain a GPS chip which can assist in location – with phone calls.

However, text is another issue, Guthrie said, with phone manufacturers required to have similar technology installed for text messages by 2020.

The difference is text technology, which requires a “middleman” between carrier and end-user, known as a text control center, Guthrie said.

“Texts take a different route,” Guthrie said.

But the critical aspect of texting 911 is the ability to contact emergency personnel without making the call: for example, in a slip and fall where the person’s ability to speak or hold the phone is compromised.

And if that person is able to continue to text, they can lead emergency personnel to their location.

“Text 911 is integrated in our system so everything is tracked, recorded and kept” as with all other emergency dispatches, Guthrie said.

In addition, Guthrie has undertaken the mapping of the entire county (the county owns the maps as a result, very important) and integrated the mapping overlay into the emergency response network.

The push for text 911 is on across the country; across the globe, actually.

“They were trying to push to it with the next generation coming up because they don’t call,” Guthrie said of younger phone users.

Text 911 is another step in the county’s evolution which has placed it at envelope’s edge with emergency technology, starting with the county’s move to an internet-supported system, which allows more traffic flow, in 2011; the mapping of the entire county was completed in 2013.

Each step has brought upgrades in equipment.

“I sit on the 911 state board and listen to the presentations and that helps,” Guthrie said. “I want the best for what I can get.”

In addition to the system housed at the EOC, two hots spots created at the Honeyville Community Center allow for full dispatching capabilities in the event of an evacuation from south county.

Two laptops also provide access to the overall 911 system dependent on internet connection.

“We are right at the forefront of technology,” Nelson said. “Ben has chosen these companies and equipment to provide the best for the citizens of Gulf County.

“It is very complex once you get into it. You can’t just flip a switch.”

The evolution in county 911 has been largely grant-funded, nearly $300,000 in all.

But the unique aspect to the system is that it is actually regional, with Franklin and Calhoun counties as partners.

The system is integrated among the three counties; an individual county can take over for another county in the case of an emergency or overload in the other county.

“That is one of the benefits, the ability to back each other up,” said Marshall Nelson, the county’s emergency director. “Our set-up is unique because it is regional. It is the only regional system in Florida.

“At first it was set up as a cost-savings. The maintenance is divided by three.”

The regional concept came about in 1994, Nelson said, with the county’s desire to move to a 911 system though it lacked the funds to make it happen.

At the time, the phone company was owned by the St. Joe Company, with territory extending into Franklin and Calhoun counties.

With an agreement between the phone company and local governments, combined with state grant funding, the 911 system was established in the three counties.

“It is still the only regional system in the state,” Nelson said, adding that through name and ownership changes, what is now Fairpoint has been a strong partner, housing and monitoring the equipment to support the system.

“Fairpoint has been a big partner to us,” Guthrie said. “They’ve been very good about passing costs onto us at their cost.

“They have a full-time person just to monitor the 911 system.”

The company has also recently raised the housing for equipment in Port St. Joe to avoid any potential surge of water in a major storm.

And all the three counties, along with partners, have accomplished has raised the profile of what is happening in little Gulf County, Nelson noted.

Officials from South Florida have inquired with Guthrie about how the regional system works and Nelson said they have fielded calls from as far away as Australia seeking information.

“We’ve made a lot of headway and they’ve been looking at what we are doing,” Guthrie said. “Our part of the equation is effective.”

Nelson added, that the county is “a leader not only in Florida, but nationally and internationally.”