Texting 911 service becomes available

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Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

Those in need of emergency services can now text 911 instead of dialing in Travis County.

The Capital Area Council of Governments launched the new function last Thursday with 31 call centers in Central Texas. The service is now available through Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

Although the service is readily available, Ann Treffer, emergency communication manager of UT Police Department, said messaging 911 is only a “best effort service.”

“Providers cannot guarantee a message will be delivered,” Treffer said. “If you didn’t get a message back from the dispatch center, you have to assume they didn’t receive the message, and then either text again or try calling.”

Communicating an emergency through text might take longer because of certain limitations, Treffer said.

“You can’t send group messages, emojis, pictures or videos,” Treffer said. “Also, try to refrain from using slang terms and abbreviations. It’s important for students to use regular building names and addresses if possible.”

Call centers do not automatically receive the cell user’s location, Treffer said, and texting through social media apps such as WhatsApp is not supported.

“Remember, it’s ‘call 911 if you can, text if you can’t.’” Treffer said. “We still want our students to call if possible because texting will take longer.”

Treffer said the new texting function will benefit many communities, along with being a safety-expanding service.

“We are very excited to have the capability to help the hearing and speech-impaired community,” Treffer said. “We think it’s a great tool that’s available when the caller doesn’t want to be heard by an ongoing threat. For example, it could help the caller stay concealed during an active shooter situation.”

Nursing sophomore Kyle Villenueva said dispatch is critical to getting emergency medial help.

“Timing is everything in for EMTs,” Villenueva said. “It’s important that call centers understand what type of help is needed in order to dispatch the right team. I actually think texting might make it easier for students who have trouble with oral communication, especially under a stressful circumstance.”

Computer science sophomore Antony Yun said the texting service is a great innovation.

“I think the ability to text 911 is a great resource to have,” Yun said. “Oftentimes, people are placed in situations where it would be dangerous for them to make noise by placing a phone call, and this improvement would provide them with a safer way to reach out for help.”

While texting is a great resource to have, Yun said speaking to an actual person from the dispatch center would give him more relief in an urgent situation.

“I don’t have to worry about typing out all of the pertinent information and waiting for a response,” Yun said. “Instead, I can focus on dealing with the situation at hand while having someone to guide me through my responses. I would only text if I were in a situation where I wouldn’t want someone else to know I had reached out.”