July 29, 2014 | Vol. 75 No. 2

Sprint custumers can now text to 911 in Allegheny County

Sprint customers in Allegheny County can now send a short message service (SMS) text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call.

Text to 911 will allow access for the hearing/speech impaired and a safe means of contact to 911 for those who are in a situation where it is unsafe to speak on the phone.

Sprint is now the third provider to offer Text to 911 services to its customers. Verizon Wireless customers have had the availability since May 14, 2014 and T-Mobile offered Text to 911 beginning June 23, 2014. Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless customers in Allegheny County should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911:

• Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.

• Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency. It will probably take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text to 911 situation in Allegheny County because of the time involved. Someone must enter the text, and the message must go over the network and must be processed by the 911 telecommunicator’s TTY equipment. The telecommunicator must then read the text and then text back through the TTY equipment.

• Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services Communications Center will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.

• Customers must be in range of cell towers in the Allegheny County area. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services Communications Centers.

• Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.

• Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages.

• The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire, or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services through its non-emergency line at 412-473-3056.

• SMS911 should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, other attachments or other recipients appended to the message.

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