Texting 911 capability now available in Maricopa County

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Maricopa County on Monday rolled out a new way for Phoenix-area residents to get help in an emergency. The message is simple: “Call if you can. Text if you can’t.”

For the first time, people in the greater Phoenix area can text 911 if they are in trouble and cannot, for whatever reason, call 911.

"Texting has become a very important means of communication and we are excited to bring this technology to 911 services," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said at a news conference on Monday. “This is a valuable tool to allow emergency responders to interact with people with disabilities or who are in situations that are too dangerous to make a call to 911. Today’s launch means that anyone who can send a text can communicate in an emergency – any emergency.”

One example Stanton gave is in the case of a break-in or domestic violence situation. Somebody hiding in a closet or bathroom or under a bed might not want to speak for fear of giving themselves away. Texting is a safer -- and now a viable -- option.

[Jump to: How to text to 911]

“Think about an active shooter situation, where people are trying to contact rescuers without announcing their location,” he continued.

The system was purchased in August. Dispatchers at more than two dozen 911 call centers throughout the Phoenix metro area have been training with the software since December.

[PDF: Phoenix-metro area 911 call centers (Public Safety Answering Points)]

“We are proud to say the tests have been successful,” Stanton said, assuring everyone that the system is up and running, working exactly how it is supposed to. “Please do not test it out. The system is live and is working right now.”

The Arizona Center for Disability Law played a huge role in bringing the text-to-911 technology to the Phoenix area.

“Text to 911 will allow people with disabilities to independently communicate with emergency services and the get the help that they need,” said Asim Dietrich, a lawyer with the agency. “This system will also allow people with disabilities to obtain emergency help for other members of the community.”

The Phoenix metro area is home to some 150,000 residents with physical disabilities that make using the call-only  911 system difficult at best.

This is a valuable tool to allow emergency responders to interact with people with disabilities or who are in situations that are too dangerous to make a call to 911. Today’s launch means that anyone who can send a text can communicate in an emergency – any emergency.

Norbert Enos, a resident of Surprise, helped test the system before it was deployed. Enos is deaf.

“It has been a great opportunity for us to finally have access that has hitherto not been available,” he said through an American Sign Language interpreter.

Enos tested the system in Surprise, Sun City and Phoenix.

“I was able to text to the system and I got a very quick reply,” he said. “Communication was very smooth and everyone involved has done a beautiful job. I’m very grateful for that.”

Enos said there are more than 50 deaf senior citizens in his community.

“The entire community is very thrilled to have access to this new 911 system,” he said.

While the text-to-911 system does open up access to emergency services to tens of thousands of people, authorities want everyone to know that the technology does have its limits.

Location services, for example, are not available, which means people using the text system will have to type in their location.

Also, there are no translation services, which means message must be in English.

The system cannot handle group messages, nor can it accept photos.

Like a voice call, a text to 911 is a two-way conversation with a dispatcher. He or she will ask the necessary questions to get you the help you need as quickly as possible.

Communication was very smooth and everyone involved has done a beautiful job.

Stanton was clear that calling 911 is the best and most effective method to get help in an emergency situation. But if that's not possible -- and for some people and in some situations, it's not -- there now is this new text option.

"Call if you. Text if you can't."

Right now, the text to 911 system is only available in Maricopa County. According to the ACDL Facebook page, the organization and the National Association of the Deaf have reached out Arizona's other 14 counties to discuss implementing text to 911 in their regions.

How to text 9-1-1 in an emergency

  • Enter the numbers “9-1-1” in the “To” field.
  • Always provide your exact location and the nature of the emergency in your initial message.
  • Push the “Send” button.
  • Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
  • Avoid text abbreviations or slang (e.g. IDK THX, 2day, BTW).
  • Keep text messages brief and concise.
  • Only use text-to-9-1-1 for emergency calls.
  • Voice calling is always the best option, if you can safely do so. Remember: Call if you can, text if you can’t.

[Jump to: Where you left of reading]

[PDF: How to text to 911]

[PDF: Text to 911 FAQs]

[PDF: Phoenix-metro area 911 call centers (Public Safety Answering Points)]

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