Text-to-911

Text-to-911 has been available in Monroe County, PA since March 2016.  With more than 6 billion texts sent every day since 2012, being able to reach police by typing rather than talking is a logical next step that could make a huge impact for people seeking help.  But that doesn’t mean you can-or even should-start texting your emergency instead of calling.

Texting 9-1-1 could take longer to report an emergency.

  • Since texting takes longer than speaking, the substance of the texting conversation will more than likely consume more time than talking, not less.
  • The longer it takes to physically send and receive information, or to decipher texting “slang”, the longer it will take for the dispatchers to send help your way.
  • Emergency call centers will receive a basic geolocation from a texter’s phone, but there’s much more they need to know, such as your intersection or detailed location, details about people and events, and any other dangers at the scene.  911 operators don’t just receive the texter’s location and send out help, they need to confirm your location and ask several questions so that the officers responding have the most complete picture possible.
  • Depending on the coverage strength in your area, texts could take longer to travel through the network and arrive in front of the right eyes than a 911 call from the same phone; they could also experience substantial delivery delays.  On the flip side, texts require lower signal strength and may have an easier time going through.
  • While 911 texts are “free”, they are not prioritized by your carrier over texts with other normal text messages.  There’s no guarantee that your emergency text will make it through.  If “text-to-911” isn’t available or your signal doesn’t go through, you should receive a bounce-back message notifying you of that.  They are unlike voice calls which route to the 911 communications center via dedicated telephone “trunk lines” and are designated for nothing other than routing 911 voice calls to the dispatch center.

 

Context of the message is key in assisting the first responders.

  • The ability to take in the caller’s mental and emotional state over a voice call to 911 shouldn’t be weighed lightly.  Dispatchers can tell if someone is under a lot of stress-they can hear it in a caller’s voice, or hear sounds in the background of a call (shouting, gunshots or a scuffle).  These auditory cues are lost during a Text-to-911 call.

Pennsylvania has 69 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), which are call centers staffed with trained telecommunicators who are responsible for answering emergency requests for police, fire and ambulance services.  Of those 69 PSAPs, 67 are counties, and the remaining two are the Cities of Allentown and Bethlehem.  As you can see on the map above, not all PSAPs are capable of receiving Text-to-911 calls, and it is another way your text for help could be delayed.  Below are the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines for how to contact 911 via a wireless phone or other type of mobile device:

  • If you can, always contact 911 by making a voice call.  “Call if you can-text if you can’t”.
  • If you are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech disabled, and Text-to-911 is not available, use a TTY or telecommunications relay service, if available.
  • If you text 911 and text is not available in your area, you will receive a bounce back message advising “text is not available, please make a voice call to 911”.
  • Location accuracy varies by carrier and should not be relied upon.  Be prepared to give your location.
  • Text-to-911 service will not be available if the wireless carrier cannot ascertain a location of the device sending the message.
  • Text-to-911 is not available if you are “roaming”.
  • A text or data plan is required to place a text to 911.
  • Photos and videos cannot be sent to 911.  They cannot be received at the 911 center at this time.  This feature should be built into standard systems at a later date.
  • Text messages should be sent in plain language and not contain popular abbreviations (SMH, LOL, ICYMI) or emoji’s, which will not be recognized.
  • Text-to-911 cannot be sent to more than one person.  Do not send your emergency text to anyone other than 911.
  • Texts must be in English only.  There currently is no language interpretation for text available.  This is still in development.

A few important tips to remember when texting to 911:

  • Provide your LOCATION with every call.  PSAPs do NOT automatically know your location when texting to 911.
  • Provide a description of what the emergency is with every call.
  • Send brief messages without using abbreviations or slang.
  • Stay with your wireless device and be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 dispatcher.
  • No pictures, no videos and no emoticons are supported by Text-to-911.
  • Text-to-911 is for emergencies only!

 

Additional Information:

https://www.fcc.gov/guides/text-911-quick-facts-faqs

https://www.nena.org/?page=textresources

 

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