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Rutgers helps state launch 'text-to-911' program

<p>Photo Illustration | Rutgers has helped New Jersey launch a statewide ‘text-to-911’ program. The school previously launched their own version of the program last year, after a RUSA bill was passed by a previous board.</p>

Photo Illustration | Rutgers has helped New Jersey launch a statewide ‘text-to-911’ program. The school previously launched their own version of the program last year, after a RUSA bill was passed by a previous board.

In times of emergencies when calling the police is not on option, text messaging is now available.

Students can now send emergency messages via text to 911 in all areas of New Jersey, according to an email sent to the Rutgers community by Kenneth Cop, chief of University Police and Executive Director of Public Safety.

The Rutgers University Police Department is taking all text-to-911 messages for the University community, as well as for all of Middlesex County, said Michael Rein, deputy chief of University police.

“It is important for Rutgers because the University community is very apt to using new technologies,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for the University students.”

But calling is more helpful to the police, according to the email, and when possible should be done over texting.

It is important for students to note that this system is used to supplement, not replace, the tradition of calling the police, Rein said. It is also in addition to the non-emergency phone number for Rutgers police that is already in existence.

The federal guidance is to “Call When You Can … Text When You Can’t,” according to the email.

To text the police in an emergency, one has to type the number 911 in the "to" field and enter the location in the "message" field, Cop said.

Police agencies recommend silencing phones to ensure that responses from 911 do not give away the reporter's location, according to NJ Advance Media.

“I think this will create opportunity for individuals to report emergencies, and it will aid those who suffer from hearing deficits or speech impediments,” Rein said.

People in danger can take advantage of the system, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said in a press release.

In dangerous situations when drawing attention can be dangerous,  the texting system is a useful tool, said Claudia Trucco, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

“If you're in a situation where you cannot call someone, texting brings less attention to yourself,” she said. “And if you're in danger, bringing less attention to yourself is crucial. Plus, if you call 911 saying ‘someone is following me,’ the person may overhear you and act upon that."

There can be problems with texting in areas with low signal. Sometimes a call is faster, but texting is more discreet, she said.

“I'm always hesitant to call if I am in danger, because calling can be too inconvenient or awkward. If one cannot speak, it gives them an easier outlet to reach someone that can help," she said.

Rutgers launched a University-wide version of the system in February. That launch occurred a few months after the Rutgers University Student Assembly passed a bill advocating for the feature in November 2015.

Developing the original systems cost Rutgers approximately $15,000, The Daily Targum previously reported. Roughly $6,000 of that was supplied by various student organizations and governing councils.

The new feature does not dent the state's budget in the Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services, said David Weinstein, chief technology officer and head of New Jersey's Office of Information Technology in a press release.

Porrino said the system also helps people who are unable to talk due to medical distress or who are "witnessing suspicious activity" in the press release.

"There is perhaps no greater reason than public safety for government to keep pace with today's technology trends," he said in the article. "We're talking about negligible expenses for the software."

The original Rutgers texting system was an extension of the "RU Fan" notification system Rutgers has in place for football games, according to the Targum. That system allows students to report drunk, violent or injured attendees at games.

Camden County launched the first New Jersey texting service in March 2016, according to NJ Advance Media. The other 20 counties in the state followed up with their own versions by July.

Future versions of the software will allow dispatchers to receive pictures and video as well as text messages, according to the article, but the Rutgers system already allows students to send pictures.

It is progressive and reaching demographics that are not limited to people have can talk and listen on the telephone, said Aelana Freeman, a Rutgers Business School senior.

"This feature could definitely save lives when it comes to situations like domestic abuse and robberies," she said.

Noa Halff is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum.

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