Venango County moving toward option to text 911

Venango County commissioners were told Tuesday that the county is moving toward making it possible for people to text 911 for help.

“We are still in the production phase…we have yet to get equipment and do training,” Tim Dunkle, the county’s Emergency Management Agency director, said at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.

Dunkle estimated that the process of getting the text 911 operations up and running may take six months.

He described the texting option as a “last resort” for people who have a hearing impairment or can’t hear at all or for someone in a domestic situation or active shooter situation where making a call to 911 isn’t a safe thing to do.

“We still prefer people to call 911 if you can. Giving all your information over text is harder,” Dunkle said.

A text to 911 will be picked up by the phones at the 911 center which will also pick up the caller’s GPS location, just like a call to 911, Dunkle said.

He added that some carriers don’t carry texts to 911, and in that case a message will be sent to the person telling them to call 911.

Dunkle said some counties have already implemented the text 911 feature and have received very few texts.

The plan is for the state to take over the next generation 911, which includes texting, in the next three or four years, Dunkle said. At this point the county is trying to be proactive and get the text to 911 up and running, he said.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners ratified a contract with Zito to connect the county’s fiber line to a tower on Bredinsburg Road.

The fiber line was only about “200 feet at most” from the tower, commissioners chairman Sam Breene said.

The commissioners also ratified several agreements with Mobilcom to put broadband equipment on the stack of the Scrubgrass power plant, the Bredinsburg tower and the Victory school tower.

The equipment will be paid for with some of the county’s CARES money, commissioner Mike Dulaney said.

Dulaney added that the next step to getting broadband access to parts of the southern end of Venango County is finding a provider to use the equipment to light up the areas with broadband.

The job hasn’t been put out to bid, Breene added.

Breene also gave an update on the county’s grants to small business program using CARES money.

“$1.2 million has been injected directly into the local economy. It’s been given to local businesses,” Breene said. He added that the focus of the grants has been “the smallest of the small” businesses that haven’t received other aid.

Dulaney said the county is still processing some applications and sending out grants.

Commissioners also approved the use of some CARES funds for hazard pay to the corrections officers at the Venango County jail and for sheriff’s deputies for their work during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The corrections officers had no choice to come in to work and once they were there social distancing was not an option,” Breene said. “They sometimes get spit on or worse. Through it all they have done an outstanding job of keeping the virus out of the jail,” Breene added.

He also said the hazard pay for the sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers was well deserved.

“I also want to thank all the county employees for how they have handled the last six months of uncertainty,” Breene said.

In another matter, Two Mile Run park manager Luke Kauffman said the campsites at the park will remain open until the end of the month.

Kauffman said fewer people are out camping with the change in seasons and park employees have been cleaning up the campsites.