Residents are encouraged to call dispatch in an emergency if they can, but text if they can’t, now that Tooele County offers text-to-911 in emergency situations.
The new capability went live in July, according to Tooele County Sheriff Lt. Regina Nelson. Now anyone with a cell phone and an active text message plan can contact dispatchers in the county without making a call.
To contact dispatch via text, simply type “911” into the “To” field in a new text message with your message. Nelson said an emergency text should include the sender’s location and phone number first.
The sender should then include a detailed message about the emergency. Nelson said the text process follows the standard questions you would be asked by a dispatcher when making a call.
“We’re keeping it in line with our training,” she said.
When texting 911, the dispatch center does not receive the sender’s location automatically, though it does give the cell phone tower the text was sent from. It’s one reason it’s important to give your location in the initial text, according to Nelson.
While the new technology creates an additional method for contacting dispatch, Nelson said it is still best to call when able. Voice calls are still usually the fastest and most efficient means to reach emergency help, according to Utah Communications Authority.
To send an emergency text, you need to have an active texting plan with one of six mobile service providers — AT&T, i-Wireless, Spring, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular or Verizon, according to UCA. A cell phone with no active network plan can always call 911, however.
If you send an emergency text in an area where the service isn’t available, you will receive a “bounce-back” message that lets you know, according to UCA.
In addition to those who are deaf or hard of hearing, emergency texts can also be used in situations such as home invasions or kidnappings, when it could be dangerous to call, Nelson said. Since the service went live in July, Tooele County dispatch has received only one emergency text, which was sent in error.
The cost for equipment upgrades to allow for text-to-911, which was $37,475, was covered by a UCA grant. The new service does not provide an undue burden on dispatchers, Nelson said.
Now that Tooele County has text-to-911, Nelson said other capabilities are on the way in the future, such as the ability to receive images or videos from mobile users. The multimedia service is already active in Weber, Morgan and Salt Lake counties.
“Technology is just going to come faster at us now,” Nelson said.