You can now text 911

Published 6:12 pm Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Suffolk residents who need emergency services but are unable to call 911 now have another option — text-to-911.

While a voice call to 911 is still the preferred method for residents to use in the event of an emergency, the city advises that the text-to-911 option is intended for those in the deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired community, as well as people having a medical emergency in which they are unable to speak. It can also be used by people who are in situations in which speaking could possibly escalate a situation or put them in danger — in cases such as domestic violence, a home invasion or abduction.

It can also be used when a voice call cannot connect due to a poor cellular signal or other phone service interruption, and a text sent in an area without text-to-911 service should receive an automatic reply stating that the service is unavailable.


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The city unveiled the new service in an Oct. 22 news release.

To text emergency services, enter 911 without spaces or hyphens in the “to” field of a mobile phone, type a message in the message field and then push the “send” button. It’s the same process as sending a regular text message.

The city asks that when texting 911 for an emergency, the first message should be the address or location of the emergency, and the type of emergency help needed, whether it be police, fire or emergency medical aid. It asks that people keep text messages brief and concise while using full words. It cautions people not to text 911 in a group chat or to send photos, videos, attachments, GIFs or emojis, and not to text while driving.

People are advised to stay with their phone and be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 call taker. If someone is trying not to be overheard requesting help, they should silence their phone.

“Having the ability to contact 911 by text is a significant advancement to our already robust 911 system,” said Suffolk Police Major Cassandra Garvin in a news release. “By giving those that require emergency services this option, we are greatly expanding the ability of first responders to provide critical assistance to those in need.”

Text-to-911 is free and works through short message service, or SMS, with cellular carriers and requires a text or data plan.

Another feature of the service is its ability to translate a text message into Spanish. Dispatchers have access to translation services they use to conference a voice caller in with, but they have the ability to translate a Spanish text message instantly. When a dispatcher responds to a text in English, the message will be translated into Spanish for the individual to read.

The city’s advice for calling 911 in an emergency — call if you can, text if you can’t.