Local law enforcement agencies have equipped their emergency dispatch centers to respond to mobile phone SMS text messages to 911.
The new service allows those in the community who are hearing- or speech-impaired, or those in a situation where it is too dangerous to dial 911, to have another option to reach out for help during an emergency situation. All agency dispatchers are trained and ready to assist those who are unable to call 911 by voice call. All phones or devices must include a text or data plan to send a text message, said Raquel Zick, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
The agencies offering the service through dispatch include the Sheriff’s Office, Santa Barbara Police Department, UCSB Police Department, Lompoc Police Department, Santa Maria Police Department and the Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“My fellow law enforcement chief executives and I welcome the addition of this important technology to our county’s emergency dispatch systems. We are especially pleased that each Primary Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) dispatch center now has the ability to receive these messages. Text to 9-1-1 is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sheriff Bill Brown, chairman of the Santa Barbara County Law Enforcement Chiefs Association, said in a statement. “Stay at home orders and practices can put victims of domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse into almost constant close proximity to their abusers and thus inhibit their ability to report crimes verbally by telephone. Text to 9-1-1 gives victims of, and witnesses to, these crimes another way to report them and obtain help.”
Members of the public who are unable to call 911 are encouraged to use the new service, including in instances of domestic abuse, when a crime is in progress, and when the caller is injured and cannot speak, as well as other scenarios.
According to guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission, mobile device or wireless phone users are advised that location accuracy varies by carrier and should not be relied upon, and those who contact 911 should be prepared to give their location.
Photos cannot be sent to 911 or received by the call centers at this time. The messages should be in plain language and not contain abbreviations or emojis, which will not be recognized. The texts cannot be sent to more than one person and the service is not currently available in all areas of the state.
“Whenever possible, texts should be English. There currently is no automated language interpretation for text available. This is still in development. Dispatchers will make every attempt to translate non-English texts, but this will result in a delay,” Ms. Zick said.