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In the News

Text to 9-1-1 enters testing: get familiar with texting 9-1-1

Friday, September 23, 2016

Text to 9-1-1 is one step closer to being implemented in the Capital Area as testing for the service’s delivery and receiving networks begins in October. After testing is completed and the system is switched on, residents will be able to send a text message for emergency assistance if they are unable to speak on the phone. CAPCOG anticipates the service will be available by January 2017.

It is recommended that residents only text 9-1-1 when making a voice call to 9-1-1 is unsafe or not possible. Residents should follow the guidance of the national slogan for Text to 9-1-1, and “Call if you can, text if you can’t” as the service has more limitations. For instance, cell phone carriers such as T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint only offer texting services as a “best effort service” meaning they do not guarantee delivery of text messages. 9-1-1 call centers can’t receive text messages sent via a group message or that have an emoji, video, or picture. There also isn’t translation services for text messages, so text messages must be sent in English.

Below are some frequently asked questions to help residents be more aware of using Text to 9-1-1 when it is available in the 10-county region.

What is Text to 9-1-1?
Text to 9-1-1 is the ability to send text messages from a U.S. phone number to local 9-1-1 call centers. Only use Text to 9-1-1 if making a voice call to 9-1-1 is unsafe or not possible. This service is especially beneficial to those who are hard of hearing, deaf, or speech-impaired. Some other examples of when Text to 9-1-1 would be beneficial:

  • The caller cannot speak due to a threat, illness or medical condition.
  • The caller has poor reception and can only send out a text message.
  • Phone lines and cellphone towers are overwhelmed and only  texts can get through.

Is Text to 9-1-1 available to me?
Text to 9-1-1 is planned for Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties. Remember to “Call if You Can, Text if You Can’t.”
Text to 9-1-1 is projected to be made available in three separate phases:

  • Hays, Williamson and Travis counties are projected to start testing the system in October 2016.
  • Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell and Fayette counties are projected to start testing the system in October 2016.
  • Burnet, Blanco and Llano counties are projected to start testing the system in November 2016.

Text to 9-1-1 is projected to be fully operational in the 10-county region by January 2017. An online version of this FAQ will be updated as timelines change and the systems come online. Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have agreed to offer Text to 9-1-1 in the region.

What are Text to 9-1-1 limits?
Text messaging is a “best effort service” provided by cellphone service providers; meaning cellphone service providers do not guarantee a message will be or ever was delivered. Since the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t required them to guarantee the service, there is a chance that a 9-1-1 call center will not receive a text from a person having an emergency.
Text messages also can take longer to receive, can be delivered out of order or may not be received. Additionally, Text to 9-1-1 does not work if the sender texts using a group message, emojis, sends pictures or videos. Apps that text other app users (such as WhatsApp) or texting via social media (such as Facebook Messenger) do not support Text to 9-1-1.

What languages can be used?
Text to 9-1-1 is only available in English. However, voice calls to 9-1-1 can be processed in multiple languages because all CAPCOG 9-1-1 call centers provide emergency interpretive services.

How do I know a 9-1-1 call center received my text?
Since texting is a “best effort service” for  cellphone service providers, the only way to know a text reached a 9-1-1 call center is when the center texts back. If you believe a text was not received, call 9-1-1.

Why is it better to call 9-1-1?
Voice calls to 9-1-1 are the most efficient way to reach emergency help. That’s why the slogan for the service is “Call if You Can, Text if You Can’t.” Voice calls allow the 9-1-1 operator to quickly obtain information. Anyone can make a voice call to 9-1-1 using any wireless phone, regardless of the contract or plan.
Disadvantages of texting 9-1-1 include:

  • Texting takes more time and is limited to the text messages.
  • Texting is a best effort service. In some instances cellphone service providers may not relay the message from sender to the 9-1-1 center.
  • A person cannot text to 9-1-1 without a service contract that includes texting.
  • Texting to 9-1-1 does not automatically provide the location of the phone texting.

How do I Text to 9-1-1?

  1. Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field.
  2. The first text message to 9-1-1 should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help needed.
  3. Push the send button.
  4. Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
  5. Text in simple words – do not use abbreviations.
  6. Keep text messages brief and concise.
  7. Once you have initiated a Text to 9-1-1 conversation, do not turn off your phone until the dispatcher tells you it is ok to do so.

> Read just this FAQ or download it.
> Read an overview FAQ about the Text to 9-1-1 service.
> Learn more about CAPCOG Emergency Communications Division.
 

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