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King County now allows text messaging to 911 – with a few caveats

On December 20th, the King County 911 dispatch center began accepting text messages. While this has been considered a necessity for a while, it has taken some time to put the necessary technology into place. The additional option is intended for those who may be deaf or hard of hearing, experiencing a speech impairment, or someone who does not feel safe making a phone call that might be overheard.

A press release from the county says that “While texting to 9-1-1 is a vital tool that increases accessibility to emergency services, the preferred method for those who can speak is to call. The key message to remember is ‘call if you can, text if you can’t.” This is because the text messages to 911 will be treated like any other text message, which may mean delays in response.

Those who may use the service are reminded to:

  • Keep messages concise and brief
  • Send the location of the emergency (city included) and the type of assistance needed (medical, police, fire) in the initial message
  • Type in complete words with no abbreviations
  • Stay with the phone and be prepared to answer follow-up questions from the 911 dispatcher

While the service is not yet available state-wide, Snohomish, Kitsap, and Thurston Counties do have it in place. Pierce County plans on adding it early in 2019. If someone tries to text a 911 center that cannot accept texts, they will receive an alert notice that the text cannot go through.

Note that at this time, replies can only be sent in English. Also, the system cannot accept photos or videos (although this is planned for future implementation).

In addition, we recommend signing up for the Smart911 service in order to more easily deliver crucial information to rescuers and first responders.

Click here for a full, in-depth report on the Regional Enhanced 911 Strategic Plan.

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Published on January 4, 2019