If you cannot safely place a voice call to 911, you can now text for emergency police, fire or medical aid in Pierce County. South Sound 911’s launch of text-to-911 service today provides the community – including the Deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disabled – a potentially life-saving option to reach 911. It is also available for those in a situation where calling 911 might endanger a life or escalate the situation.
South Sound 911 cautions that text-to-911 is not a service of convenience – it is for emergencies only. While voice calls to 911 are still the most effective way to get emergency help, text-to-911 is available when you cannot safely make a voice call. Simply stated, call if you can, text if you can’t.
If you send a text to 911, there are a few things to remember:
- Your first message should include the nature of the emergency and the exact location, including city. (When you text or call on a cellular phone, 911 may not know your precise location.)
- Keep messages brief. Do not send photos or video, or use group texts, abbreviations or emojis.
- Keep your cell phone with you so you can answer questions and receive instructions.
- If you are trying not to be overheard requesting help, remember to silence your phone.
- Currently, text-to-911 service is only available in English.
- Although South Sound 911 has tested the service, the agency does not control text delivery from mobile carriers or devices.
- If text-to-911 service is not available, senders should receive an automatic reply stating the service is unavailable.
- There may be instances when a voice call cannot connect due to poor cellular signal or other phone service interruption, but a text message can still go through.
“We are pleased to finally make this important service available on behalf of our 41 local law enforcement and fire agencies here in Pierce County,” South Sound 911 Executive Director Andrew Neiditz said. “It makes sense, with the prevalence of texting in our region that – in the appropriate situations – texting can be a safe way to save your life or a loved one’s life.”
The service will also provide access to critical 911 and emergency services for the Deaf, hard of hearing and speech disabled. According to the Coalition on Inclusive Emergency Planning (CIEP), a statewide Washington State Independent Living Council advisory group for people with disabilities and other access and functional needs, community members have been struggling for more than 50 years for equal access to 911 services called for by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“In the beginning, we had to depend on hearing people to make the calls for us and when automatic location identification became available, we were taught to dial 911 and then leave our phones off the hook, hoping and praying that help would arrive in time,” CIEP Disability Integration Manager Jim House said. “Today, CIEP is glad that Pierce County is joining the rest of the region in providing text-to-911, an option that we can use when we are not at home with our videophones or captioned phones.”
Launch of text-to-911 in Pierce County now makes the service available throughout the greater Puget Sound region. Text-to-911 is already available in neighboring King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Thurston Counties.
For more information about text-to-911 in Pierce County visit southsound911.org/text911.
Kris McNamar, community relations manager