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Text-to-911 Service Launched Today in Arlington

A 911 dispatcher in Arlington's Emergency Communications CenterFive and a half years after it was first proposed in Arlington, Text-to-911 capability is finally a reality.

The ability to send a text message to 911 launched today in Arlington. In a press release, officials encouraged those reporting an emergency to call instead of text, unless a disability or a safety risk prevents you from doing so.

From Arlington County:

Arlington County today launched Text to 9-1-1, making it possible to send a text message to our Emergency Communications Center if you can’t call 9-1-1.

“In an emergency, we always prefer that you call 9-1-1,” said Deputy County Manager for Public Safety James Schwartz. “But if you can’t call, you will now be able to text and get the help you need.”

Arlington joins other jurisdictions across the region and the nation who are adding Text to 9-1-1 to their emergency communications options, and reminding callers “call if you can, text if you can’t.”

“Use it only when you cannot establish voice communications or when speaking into a phone would present a significant safety risk,” Schwartz said. He noted, however, that Text to 9-1-1- is particularly useful for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired.

Voice calls to 9-1-1 are preferred because they make it easier for dispatchers to give commands that can be extremely useful in providing medical assistance such as CPR and basic first aid instructions.

“It is important that anyone who does have to use Text to 9-1-1 provide as much information as possible, including exact location and nature of the incident,” said Jack Brown, director of Arlington’s Office of Emergency Management.

How it works

Text-to-9-1-1 uses SMS text messaging technology. The Arlington County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) can now receive and send text messages to those in Arlington and Falls Church in need of emergency assistance who can’t make a 9-1-1 phone call. The system, Telecommunications System, Inc., also provides dispatchers with mapping capabilities to help pinpoint locations where text messages are received.

The system allows dispatchers to text up to 250 characters and can handle text messaging both in our main Emergency Communications Center as well as our back-up center.

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