Technology helping Mass. residents get 911 help silently

(WPRI) – An emergency call to 911 is one phone call most hope they never have to make.

However, if talking on the phone puts you in harm’s way, Massachusetts officials want you to know you can still get help even if you can’t talk.

The Silent Call Procedure isn’t new, but Bay State officials tell Eyewitness News few people know about it.

Years ago, it became clear to the Massachusetts State 911 Department that their system did not accommodate those in need of help who could not verbally communicate.

With technology unique to the Mass. department, the Silent Call Procedure was implemented in the mid-90’s.

“They could call 911 and press numbers on their phone and the dispatcher would see those numbers,” said Monna Wallace, Director of Programs at the Mass. State 911 Department.

In case you need to make a silent call in an emergency, officials say to follow these steps:

  1. Dial 911
  2. Once the call is answered, indicate your need by pressing the appropriate number on your telephone – either cell phone or landline:
  • If you need Police, press 1
  • If you need Fire, press 2
  • If you need an Ambulance, press 3

The 911 dispatcher may ask questions that require “yes” or “no” answers:

  • Press 4 for Yes
  • Press 5 for No

“It could be somebody that’s in the middle of a domestic violence situation, a house invasion,” explained Wallace. “Anytime someone needs 911 and they’re unable to communicate, regardless of what the situations is, they can use the silent call procedure.”

Wallace recalled to Eyewitness News a September 2015 incident in which a silent call helped law enforcement rescue a woman from a domestic violence situation that had escalated to a dangerous point.

“She was in the car with this man and she wasn’t able to speak.” Wallace said a keen dispatcher immediately knew something was wrong.

“So, he started prompting her with the silent call procedure and she started to press numbers and they were able to locate her,” said Wallace.

In the case that a caller is incapacitated or cannot input numbers, the call will remain an open line and help will be dispatched.

This year has marked a resurgence for silent call – in the form of growing awareness  – thanks to Facebook and Twitter.

Wallace added she has received calls from several officials from throughout the country, curious about the Commonwealth’s system.

“I’ve been answering questions on the silent call procedure more in the past six months than I have since 1996, due to social media.”

Last year, the Massachusetts State 911 Department received 2,089,279 emergency calls, though there is no way of knowing just how many of those were silent calls.

Rhode Island is not equipped with silent call technology but officials say if Ocean State residents cannot communicate their need for help, leave the line open and dispatchers will assess the emergency.

Technology that allows both Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents to text to 911 is still being developed.

Learn more about the Silent Call Procedure here.

Copyright 2015 WPRI.com

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