OCEAN CITY – Discussions on technology that could send text alerts to the Ocean City Police Department in emergency situations were placed on the back burner this week after officials concluded the resort’s current system could not handle texting capability.
In a Police Commission meeting Monday, Councilman Dennis Dare, chair of the commission, introduced the topic after hearing concerns and comments from two citizens at a June meeting of the Mayor and Council.
While one citizen expressed concerns over the level of violence in the downtown area during the month of June, Dare said the other, Scott Chismar, suggested a five-digit text that would alert the Ocean City Police Department of any situations at a certain location.
Dare said the concept is similar to technology used during Orioles games at Camden Yards, where guests can text any issue and a numeric location to stadium security.
City officials explained that a postponed mandate will require the town to introduce a new emergency communications system in the future that improves wireless capabilities, but Joe Theobald, emergency services director, said the city’s current technology can’t handle texts.
“We don’t have the capability today with the existing system,” he said, “so texting to 911 is not a reality right now.”
Dare asked if the text needed to go through the 911 system or if it could be sent to another number.
Police Chief Ross Buzzuro replied that the preferred method would be to send both emergency and non-emergency requests through the 911 system.
“We want to try and not deviate from 911 because of the checks and balances,” he said. “The call comes in, you have a complaint, it gets triaged somewhat and then it goes out to police or fire depending on what it is … It’s always better to have it come through 911, even if it’s something minor in nature.”
Theobald said that texting will be part of enhanced 911 systems in the future, but suggested a temporary system that could field concerns and complaints.
“I think we can evaluate what technology we have in the city presently to see if we can do something to do that,” he said, “but I don’t have a quick answer for you right now.”
Dare expressed concerns that a text sent in the new system would go to Worcester County’s emergency services department before reaching Ocean City Police, but didn’t favor a temporary system that would directly contact the resort’s law enforcement.
“I don’t see where it needs to go to Snow Hill and back here and I don’t see us going to two systems, one in the interim and one when we finally get the mandated new system,” he said. “I guess it’s something to take under advisement and keep in mind as we move forward.”
Mayor Rick Meehan asked about Ocean City Communications’ texting capabilities.
“So Communications can’t receive texts?” he said.
Theobald explained that while there is a program the city utilizes that could monitor issues in real time, he said it would most likely be a solution for non-emergent complaints.
“Texting characters for emergent situations is probably not a good thing until we get further with technology,” he said.
Dare added that a new text alert system and number would introduce a public relations issue for the town, which sees an influx of new visitors on a weekly basis in the summer.
“How do you get that to a quarter million people every week?” he said. “It wouldn’t be effective.”