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N.C. city expands 911 texting

Those with AT&T join Verizon customers in the ability to text their emergency to dispatchers

By Wes Platt
The Herald-Sun

DURHAM, N.C. — On Thursday, the Durham Emergency Communications Center added AT&T Wireless to its text-messaging options.

Customers with AT&T texting plans now can send messages to 911 for emergency help. They join Verizon customers, who have been able to text Durham 911 for about 2 ½ years, according to Jim Soukup, director of the communications center.

“It gives customers another method to reach 911 for certain circumstances that normally they may not be able to,” Soukup said.

Specifically, he stressed that texting should be used by people in situations where using the phone might put them in danger or if the person is deaf or hard of hearing.

“It’s a great way to have that capability,” Soukup said. “For those who need it, it’s there for them.”

Customers texting 911 should keep the following in mind:

• Use only when calling isn’t an option. For many, picking up and calling is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help.

• Provide location information and nature of emergency in the first message. Don’t use text abbreviations or slang.

• Be in range of Durham County cell towers. Those near the edge or beyond Durham County lines may not reach the communications center.

• Texts are limited to 160 characters.

• Must have mobile phones capable of sending texts. Texts to 911 will count against the messaging plan or be charged in according with wireless plans.

• Use only for emergencies that require immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should be communicated to the communication center’s regular number at 919-560-4600.

Durham was the first major municipality in North Carolina to allow texting to 911. The only other state that currently accepts AT&T text messages is Vermont, he said.

Soukup said that he hopes other carriers, such as Sprint and T-Mobile, will come on board soon.

Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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