FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) As of Wednesday, Verizon Wireless customers can now text 911 to emergency call centers throughout the state. However public safety officials are stressing that it’s still preferable to dial 911. Someone who wants to report an emergency should only use the texting option when calling is not an option. Also, not all counties can currently handle receiving text alerts. Allen County and Fort Wayne expect to be able to in the next several days. LaGrange County dispatch is able to accept 911 texts right now.
While Verizon is the first to offer the service, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile are expected to offer the service by the end of the year.
The LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department released the following information regarding the differences between texting 911 and calling 911:
- Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.
- Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency. It may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text to 911 situation because of the time involved: someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and the 911 telecommunicator must read the text and then text back.
- Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Indiana communications centers will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
- Customers must be in range of cell towers in the area. If customers are outside or near the edge of a county, the message may not reach the Emergency Communications Center.
- Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.
- Verizon Wireless customers who use Usage Controls should remove this feature to ensure full text to 911 capabilities.
- Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages.
- The solution is available for customers who use the SMS provided by Verizon Wireless. It is not available for third-party text messaging applications that can be downloaded to the phone or for applications that do not use SMS technology.
- The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the local municipalities’ communications centers through their non-emergency lines.
- SMS911 should only be to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, other attachments or other recipients appended to the message.
- Communicating with 911 dispatchers by voice is more effective than text-to-911. Using text should be limited to the following circumstances:
- When calling 911 is not possible, such as if the caller is deaf, hearing- or speech-impaired.
- If a caller is otherwise unable to speak, because of a medical condition (such as a stroke).
- If speaking would be unsafe, as in the case of abduction or home invasion.