33 Fla. counties now have text to 911 capabilities
Anyone who can’t call in an emergency can now send a message to request police, fire or medical assistance
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — You can now text 911 in Broward County in an emergency.
Broward leaders announced on Tuesday that anyone who can’t call in an emergency can now send a message to request police, fire or medical assistance.
But county officials, including Broward Mayor Mark Bogen, Commissioner Michael Udine and Broward sheriff’s Col. Sean Zukowsky, stressed that texting should be a second option.
“The preference is to call 911 and speak to an operator,” Bogen said at a media conference Tuesday morning streamed live to its Facebook page. “We cannot find you by your cell signal. Text messages may take longer than calling 911 or may not be received at all. How many of us remember sending a text that didn’t go through?”
Drawbacks to texting
There are other drawbacks to texting rather than calling and speaking directly with a dispatcher.
People aren’t always clear when they type. And a stressful situation in a 911 call can make it even worse.
Plus, there is the issue of geography. Your emergency may be in Broward, but if you are texting from a county that doesn’t have “Text to 911” technology, including Miami-Dade, it won’t work. To the north of Broward, Palm Beach County does have the service.
There also is an issue with language. The Text to 911 system in Broward only processes texts in English, as is the case in the other Florida counties. Spanish, French or Creole service is not yet available.
The Text to 911 system, part of a $353 million investment in enhancing regional 911 service in Broward, is a work in progress.
“This is the next step,” said Commissioner Udine at the media conference, citing demand and how people rely on cell versus land lines today.
“We know the majority of people are calling from their cells,” he said. “The public is way ahead of us and issues will be worked out just like calling from a cell has gotten better with 911. This is an important public safety update.”
Who should text 911?
So who should consider texting rather than calling?
According to the county mayor, “This technology directly benefits members of our community who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired. They will now have a more efficient and effective way to request emergency services in times of need. Texts to 911 should be used by members of the public only in situations where it may be unsafe to make a phone call such as in the case of an active shooter, home invasion or domestic violence situation,” Bogen said.
We’ve all seen scenes in horror movies or TV crime shows where a victim, paralyzed by fear that the sound of their voice will carry and bring attention to where they are hiding, wonders whether to risk a call 911. Texting could be an option in such a scenario, officials say.
But heed these tips before you send that 911 text in Broward or any other county:
- Call 911 if you can. Text only if you can’t.
- Provide the exact location of the emergency and make the text message brief and easy to understand. This is not the time to send pictures, videos, emojis, or to use abbreviations or slang like you do with friends and family when telling them you will be late for dinner.
- Be ready to respond to text messages from 911 until the conversation is finished.
- “Text to 911 will give a voice to those who would be in danger if they were to place a phone call,” Udine said. “This new service allows us to better meet the needs of an evolving community and makes emergency services available to more people, especially those with hearing or speech disabilities.”
Other Florida counties
According to the Florida Department of Management Services, 33 of Florida’s 67 counties have adopted the Text to 911 option.
These Text-to-911 Florida counties include: Palm Beach County, which adopted the service in 2018, Alachua, Brevard, Collier, Clay County, Duval, Escambia, Manatee, Nassau, Volusia County, Orange County, Pinellas, Seminole, Sarasota and St. Lucie.
According to Florida Department of Management, Monroe and Miami-Dade counties are planning to implement the text service some time in 2019.
The move to making Text to 911 operational is applauded by the FCC.
“The FCC encourages emergency call centers to begin accepting texts as text providers develop Text to 911 capability, but it is up to each call center to decide the particular method in which to implement and deploy Text to 911 technology,” the FCC said on its webpage. The FCC also echoes Broward officials’ comments by stressing the importance of making calls first rather than having texting be your automatic go-to when requesting emergency assistance.
“Text to 911 is currently only available in certain locations, you should always make a voice call to contact 911 during an emergency whenever possible,” the FCC urges.
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