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Ontario County launches enhanced text messages to 911 features

Ontario County’s 911 Center dispatchers will now try two methods of reconnecting with a caller in the event of a hang-up.

It’s standard practice for dispatchers to attempt a call-back if a caller hangs up. Now, dispatchers will also try to regain contact via text message if the initial call-back goes unanswered, according to the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office.

‘Call if you can, text if you can’t,’ says Sheriff’s Office

“If the call goes unanswered, they will send the phone a text message asking you to call or text back if you have an emergency,” explained the OCSO in a release. 

“This would allow a caller the option to then begin a text conversation with the dispatcher, especially in scenarios where speaking to a dispatcher isn’t possible for several reasons.”  

The OCSO has offered its text message to 911 option since 2016- their motto is, “Call if you Can, Text if you Can’t!”

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When is it appropriate to text instead of call 911?

The Sheriff’s Office said that while calling 911 in the event of an emergency is preferred, there are some situations in which it may not be a viable or safe option.

Some examples include:

  • The caller is facing a threatening situation and a voice call could increase that threat.
  • The caller is injured or suffered a medical condition, like a stroke, and cannot speak.
  • The caller is in a remote location and can only send out text messages.

Police say the first text message you send should always include clear and exact location information and the nature of the emergency. 

“Like cell phone voice calls to 9-1-1, 911 Dispatchers do not always know your exact location. The location services for texting is even broader than with cell phones which make pinpointing your location more difficult,” said the Sheriff’s Office.

Photos and videos cannot be sent to 911 through this method, and texts are limited to 160 characters.  These limitations, however, may change in the future as technology advances.   

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Below is further information provided by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office concerning how to properly use the 911 text feature during an emergency.

How to text 911 in an emergency

  • Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field.
  • The first text message to 9-1-1 should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help needed
  • Push the “Send” button.
  • Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
  • Text in simple words – do not use abbreviations.
  • Keep text messages brief and concise.
  • Text to 9-1-1 is currently limited to the SMS (Short Messaging System) character count of 160 characters.

Need-to-knows when texting 911

  • Text location information is not equal to current location technology.
  • As with all text messages, 9-1-1 messages can take longer to receive, and can get out of order or may not be received.
  • Text-to-9-1-1 is not available in all areas.
  • A text or data plan is required to place a text-to-9-1-1
  • If texting to 9-1-1 is not available in your area, or is temporarily unavailable, you will receive a message indicating that texting 9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by other means.
  • Photos and videos cannot be sent to 9-1-1 at this time.
  • Text-to-9-1-1 cannot include more than one person.  Do not send your emergency text to anyone other than 9-1-1.

For more information, head to the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office ‘Calling/Texting to 9-1-1’ webpage.

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