Bay County officials announced Friday that a new text-to-911 service is now live and available locally for use as a critical tool during emergencies when people cannot safely call 911 for emergency assistance.
“If you can call 911, that should still be your first option,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said. “However, that isn’t always possible. Sometimes it is not safe to verbally call, and this new service could make a difference in getting someone the emergency help they need in that kind of scenario.”
Bay County’s Text-to-911 service is intended for use primarily in any of three situations:
- When it is not safe to place a voice call to 911
- When the caller is deaf, hard of hearing, or has a speech disability
- When a medical emergency renders someone incapable of speaking
People with police, fire, or medical emergencies should call 911 if they can and text to 911 if they cannot call. This service should only ever be used in an emergency, and prank texters can be identified and possibly prosecuted.
“Bay County is excited to provide this technology to our residents and visitors,” Bay County Commission Chairman Tommy Hamm said. “Anything we can do to help save lives and improve outcomes in emergencies is good for our community.”
In Bay County, cellular providers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon provide the Text-to-911 service, and a phone must be subscribed to a wireless carrier’s text or data plan in order to make or receive text messages to the emergency 911 center.
To place an emergency text using the Text-to-911 service, open a new text message and enter “911” into the “recipient” field. Type in a short message, including the location of the emergency and asking for police, fire, or an ambulance and push “send.” Answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 operator. Keep messages clear and concise without using slang or abbreviations.
While Text-to-911 is intended to improve emergency outcomes, the service does offer some challenges.
As with all text messages, Text-to-911 may take longer to receive and respond to than a voice call, the text does not provide the location information of the texter, and the messages could be received out of order or may not be received at all. Other challenges include that:
- Text GPS location information is not equal to current wireless location technology
- Voice calls are real-time communication and Text-to-911 is not
- Pictures or videos cannot be received by 911 at this time
- Text-to-911 messages with any additional recipients included may not be received by 911
Bay County Chief of Emergency Services Brad Monroe encouraged the public to assist our dispatchers in the transition to using the new service by ensuring that residents strive to use the service only within the appropriate parameters.
“Remember, call when you can, text when you can’t,” Monroe said.