Residents will be able to text 911

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 2, 2019

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Residents of Covington County will now be able to text 911 if they are in situation where they are not able to dial the number.

The Emergency Communications Districts (ECDs) in Southeast Alabama and the Wiregrass are taking the pivotal next step in providing emergency communication to their citizens.

This means that in times citizens are not able to dial 911 they may text to 911 their emergency.  Through a strong coordinated approach to public safety, these counties join local 911 centers across the nation in the use of text messaging within the 911 centers.

“As always, our goal is to keep our citizens safe and by providing this texting service we feel it is an added measure to do just that,” Chad Sowell, E911 Director in Henry County, said.

During the past few weeks, 911 telecommunicators have been training with the new system to become accustom to the features and abilities of the program.

“Training is a vital part of our job,” E911 director for Ozark/Dale County Paula Simmons said. “We want to make sure our 911 telecommunicators are up to date and current on all new forms of technology.”

The new texting service called Texty is provided in part by the new statewide 911 network being implemented by the company INdigital. Eventually, this particular texting program will be offered statewide after the full implementation of the new 911 network.

The Covington County E911 said the texting service should not be used in place of dialing 911, but when a situation is present where they cannot verbally communicate to please use the text service.

Wireless customers in Southeast Alabama that use Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Southern Linc, or Sprint should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 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 Alabama 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.
  • Wireless customers who have text messaging Usage Controls should remove this feature to ensure full text to 911 capability.
  • 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 their Wireless provider. Text-2-911 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.