Anderson County this week joins 25 percent of the United States in getting hooked-up to “Text-to-911” service in its call centers.
Operating just as it sounds, Text-to-911allows residents to send text messages directly to 911 dispatchers, if can't make a voice call. An automated message asking the person texting for an address starts the text session between a 911 operator and resident.
A nationwide survey shows more than 80 percent of emergency calls were made by cell phones last year.
Representatives from the East Texas Council of Governments tested the service earlier this year on the nation's largest cell-phone networks: Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Then they trained area 911 call-center employees in the Text-to-911 service.
Law enforcement officials said residents should use the Text-to-911 service only when they can't make an audible call. Examples include residents who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, speech impaired, or when speaking out loud would put the caller in danger, such as calling about an active shooter or child abduction.
Palestine Police Department Asst. Chief Mark Harcrow told the Herald-Press Text-to-911 will be particularly useful when victims are close to an offender and don't want to be heard.
For fastest service, however, nothing beats a phone call.
“The preferred method for us to receive 911 information is a call,” Harcrow said. “Phone calls will always make for faster, more efficient communication, and, therefore, service.”
Experts say those using Text-to-911 should know their exact location, and avoid using abbreviations, or slang common to text-messages.
Additionally, Harcrow warns residents not to abuse Text-to-911, or use it to send “prank messages.”
“As with the traditional 911 system, there's always the potential for abuse,” he said. “State laws for false reports and abuse of the 911 system cover text messages, as well.”
The updated service, which Harcrow said involved installing new software, was provided to the city free.
Currently, the Text-to-911 service is available only on the four major networks: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
Speech or hearing impaired residents should use a special TTY phone to reach 911 if text service is not offered in the area; others should consider making a phone call their primary option.