Text 911 dispatchers if you’re in an emergency

Text to 911

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Law enforcement agencies are now using a new service to enhance public safety in Pima County.

The message: Call if you can, text if you can’t.

Communications centers are integrating texting into their 911 answering system, allowing anyone in need of emergency services to reach a dispatcher via text message when calling is not an option.

“We are a link between the public and the people that can go see them in person," said Joanne Amstutz, Communications Training Supervisor for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

“Using the technology that’s available to be able to make emergency services available to as many people as we can," said Amstutz.

Just like 911 calls, the texts will pop-up on a dispatcher’s computer screen. Priority for both will remain the same, which is based on the severity of the situation.

The service spanning from Tucson, north to Marana, Oro Valley, to the University of Arizona and more.

It may sound simple in a society where texting is second-hand nature, but for the hard of hearing or deaf community, it’s a relief. Until now, Samantha Moore would have to use an interpreter service to get through in an emergency.

Moore spoke with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department about the new service.

“Using an interpreting service, I have to make sure I’m at the right angle, can they see me? If I’m in an emergency situation, that might not be accessible," said Moore. "So they won’t be able to see me and I think that’s a hassle for the deaf community. So, to text, that’s immediate and I really think that’s important.”

It’s also important for situations when someone can’t speak because of injury or illness, they are in a situation where they don’t feel safe talking on the phone or they are in an area with poor reception.

“People in situations that it might put them in danger if they call, they can text us and get a hold of us a lot faster," said Amstutz.

If you do text in a request for help, Amstutz said you will want to include as much information as possible.

“If you’re texting to 911, definitely tell us where you’re at, if you can,” said Amstutz. "It’s going speed up the response because if that’s the only text message that can get through, at least we know where to send help at.”

Here’s how it works: If a citizen needs help but is unable to speak, or they cannot do so safely, they can text 911 using their mobile phone. All you have to do is enter 911 in the “To” field and enter the location and nature of the emergency in the text field.

It is important to know the limitations to the system, such as:

  • Know and provide your location. The most important piece of information is to provide your location, followed by what is happening.
  • You can’t text 911 with a 911 only phone.
  • A text from an internet messaging program will not work for 911.
  • The preferred language for text is English due to limited translation services.

“The bottom line, we want to be able to help the people that need help,” said Amstutz.

Officials said traditional 911 voice calls are still preferred and are the most effective way for dispatchers to gather information and field emergency calls.

KOLD News 13 reached out to The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing regarding the new service. The ACDHH replied:

“Text 911 is a critical and life saving program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community. It can greatly reduce barriers often associated with traditional 911 services and allows direct access to public safety agencies. With Pima County launching their text 911, this will greatly impact those in living in the community to receiving life saving services.”

Agencies now offering the Text 911 service:

Arizona Department of Public Safety

City of Tucson Public Safety Communications Department

Marana Police Department

Oro Valley Police Department

Pima County Sheriff Department– Ajo

Pima County Sheriff Department– Pima

Rural Metro Fire Department – Pima

University of Arizona Police Department

Valley Emergency Communications Center

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