You can now text 911, but only if necessary

FROM STAFF REPORTS

MARBLE FALLS — Highland Lakes residents can now use text messaging to contact emergency services via 911, but officials caution people not to make it their “go-to” way of contacting a dispatch center.

“Text to 911 is a great addition to emergency response; however, the service has several limitations, so residents should familiarize themselves with them before texting 911, and, most importantly, ‘Call if you can, text if you can’t,’” said Gregg Obuch, the Capital Area Council of Governments emergency communications director. CAPCOG, which includes Burnet, Llano, Blanco, Bastrop, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Travis, and Williamson counties, rolled out the Text to 911 service Oct. 4 after successfully testing it on the region’s 31 public safety answering points, or 911 call centers.

After testing, officials determined all 911 call centers or dispatches could reliably receive and respond to emergency text messages.

CAPCOG officials said the Text to 911 service is beneficial to those who are hard of hearing, deaf, or speech-impaired but urged people to use it only when calling 911 wasn’t safe or possible.

He cited several examples when texting 911 was more beneficial, including:

• the caller cannot speak due to a threat, illness, or medical condition;

• the caller has poor reception and can only send a text message;

• or phone lines and cellphone towers are overwhelmed and only texts can get through.

Cellphone service provides only offer text messaging as a “best effort service,” meaning they don’t guarantee a message will be delivered, Obuch said. He added that it sometimes takes longer for text messages to be delivered, and they can be delivered out of order.

Officials said the only way to confirm a 911 text has been received is when the center texts back. If a person doesn’t think the text went through, they should dial 911 in the traditional manner.

Plus, a call center or dispatch doesn’t automatically receive the user’s location when texting.

The service is now useable through the four major cellphone service providers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

Text to 911 is only available in English, but voice calls can be processed in several languages. Officials said people should use simple words and not use abbreviations or emojis. Text to 911 doesn’t work with group messages, photos, or videos.

Go to capcog.org/text911 for more information on the service or to familiarize yourself with its abilities and limitations.

editor@thepicayune.com

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