‘Call if you can, text if you can't': Central Texas rolls out Text to 911 program

After successfully testing 31 of Central Texas’s 911 call centers, the Capital Area Council of Governments announced it is now possible for people to text 911 instead of dialing it.

The service works on four major cellphone service providers—Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Sprint and T-Mobile—in Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties.

CAPCOG’s Emergency Communications Director Gregg Obuch said while the service is great to have, cellphone service providers only offer text messaging as a “best effort service,” meaning providers do not guarantee a message will be delivered.

“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 remember to ‘Call if you can, text if you can’t,’” Obuch said in a press release.

According to the CAPCOG press release, the new service is beneficial for those hard of hearing, deaf or speech-impaired and is best used when the caller cannot speak due to a threat, illness or medical condition; has poor reception; or phone lines and cellphone towers are overwhelmed and only texts can get through.

Brittany Tate, Buda Police Department public information officer, said the new SMS system will give people more avenues to reach the police but still recommends people call if possible.

“We believe the new text to 911 option could be very beneficial for citizens who are unable to make an emergency call for various reasons such as the inability to speak due to threat or poor phone reception. However, we would still strongly encourage citizens to call whenever possible in order to convey the best and most information possible to dispatchers.”

Things to know about Text to 911:

  • The only way to know a text reached a 911 call center is when the center texts back.
  • Call centers don’t automatically receive a cellphone user’s location information when texting 9-1-1. Please add the location of the emergency and type of help needed.
  • Messages do not work if the sender texts using group messages, emojis, pictures or videos.
  • Text in English and in simple words—do not use abbreviations.
  • Apps that text other app users or texting via social media do not support Text to 911.
  • Once you have initiated a Text to 911 conversation, do not turn off your phone until the dispatcher tells you it is ok to do so.

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From FOX 7's reporting partner, Community Impact.

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