In Focus: Texting for help in time of need

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
Chris Hughes, of Laurel Run, is seen at her desk at HelpLine/211 at Family Services Association in Wilkes-Barre. -
Bill O’Boyle -
Zimmerman -

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Chris Hughes, of Laurel Run, is seen at her desk at HelpLine/211 at Family Services Association in Wilkes-Barre. Hughes, of Laurel Run, is seen at her desk at HelpLine/211 at Family Services Association in Wilkes-Barre.

Bill O’Boyle O’Boyle


WILKES-BARRE — Executive Director Mike Zimmerman says texting will open the door to ask for help at Family Services Association.

Help in time of disasters, help during an emergency, help in time of personal crisis.

Zimmerman said that as of July 1, the agency provides the texting service. People just need to text their zip code to 898211 to open the door for help. The service is provided to HelpLine 211 by Educational Messages Services, Inc.

Staff at Help Line 211 have been trained, Zimmerman said.

“For our area, we see a considerable advantage in times of flooding, which happens rather frequently,” Zimmerman said. “We would be able to text particular zip codes regarding evacuation orders, information on where the nearest disaster shelter is, and when feeding stops will occur, once the water recedes. Victims of domestic violence can text for help, rather than calling, which can be helpful if the perpetrator is still in the house.”

Zimmerman said the new texting feature will allow caseworkers to handle multiple texts at one time, without the inconvenience of placing someone on hold while responding to another inquiry or while searching for resources.

Time is always of the essence in emergencies and responses.

Zimmerman said, as most of the world is learning, that texting has become the communication mode of choice for most ages, not just youth. He said the convenience of providing information and referral service via texting will expedite response and make it more efficient.

Key facts

Zimmerman provided some startling facts about texting:

• 98 percent of texts are opened within 5 minutes.

• 80 percent browse the web on smart phones.

• Adults 55 and younger text more than talk on the phone.

• Adults 35 and younger text more than they email.

• People prefer texting on emotional issues rather than telephone or email, finding it easier to ask for help by text.

• 98 percent of women in crisis prefer to receive information by text over all other channels, including voice mail and email.

All of the benefits of texting to 211 are critical. Anything that can expedite getting help on the way is crucial. In many cases, minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Getting help to your home, your neighborhood or your town in the fastest manner possible is always the priority. Texting 211, from what the experts say, will improve response times and save property damage and, most importantly, save lives.

The benefits to people who are victims of domestic violence, can be absolutely life-saving. Information provided by Zimmerman’s office shows that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury and/or death to American women. It’s estimated that 50 percent of all homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence situations.

Text hot lines, like Helpline 211, are needed to increase access to resources like shelters, protective services, and emergency care.

Phone preferences

Zimmerman said research shows that women are more likely to seek help when they can text, rather than call. Some 95 percent of young mothers own a cell phone and would choose to keep it over all other possessions. And 97 percent of those moms said they text every day.

Texting, research shows, can mean the difference in a domestic violence situation. Making a voice call could seriously increase a victim’s risk. Texting allows a victim to seek help without the perpetrator knowing.

Zimmerman said when staff members try to switch texters who are discussing emotional issues to call, they often terminated the conversation. The simple fact is texting is preferred.

Information provided by Family Services Association showed data provided by Educational Messages Services, Inc., compiled from various hot lines and helplines showed texting is effective. From more than 1 million encounters since the service, Prevention Pays Text, was launched in 2010, the main issues dealt with included bullying, self-harm, eating disorders, domestic violence and suicide.

“While it may be difficult for some to imagine suicide prevention is happening in 160 characters or less, those who use the service, the hundreds of people texting these hot lines every day, couldn’t imagine it any other way,” the report states.

If texting is more comfortable for people in crisis, then this program is a welcome addition to Family Services Association and HelpLine and the community at-large.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.