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Columbia County Observer

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County 911: Texting Now On Tap
Call 911 if you can – text, only if you can't

Posted February 6, 2015  08:15 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Columbia County Combined Communications Center 911 now has the ability to receive text messages to 911.

Using a phone to call 911 is the most efficient way to reach emergency help, but what if you can't talk on your phone? What if you can only text and you need emergency assistance?

Previously you could not send a text to 911 but that has changed. Texting an emergency call is now available for residents of Columbia County. The Columbia County Combined Communications Center 911 has been upgrading their 911 systems to give you the ability to text your emergency to summon help and is the third county in Florida to do so.

The Center has been testing and training employees on the equipment for several weeks and it is now up and running.

In the past if you texted to 911 you would get a bounce back message which said texting is not available to call 911. Now that we have text to 911 capabilities, you will be able to send a text message to 911 from your cell phone using any of the four major carriers: AT&T; T- Mobile; Sprint; Verizon. You won't be able to text from third party apps, or other off brand cellular carriers.

The move to upgrade grew out of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Students who were trapped tried to remain silent or risked getting shot. In fear for their lives and unable to make a sound many students texted 911. Those texts were never received because the system wasn't set up.

Texting to 911 has also been an important issue for the hearing and speech impaired, as it's another life line to reach emergency services.

The nation's largest cell carriers are now onboard for text-to-911. This marks the beginning of what's called Nextgen911, which should arrive in Columbia County within a few years.

With Nextgen911 you will get a lot better location information when you are texting to 911 and you will be able to add pictures and video.

While being able to send a text message to 911 is a great option, it still doesn't give the dispatcher everything they need to effectively respond to your emergency, that's why they prefer that you call if you can.

With a telephone call dispatchers are able to get a better location information of where you are; they can hear voice tones; background noise; etc. There is a lot of information the dispatchers can get that you wouldn't get via just a text message.

Always call 911 if you can – but text, only if you can't.

Tom Brazil is Columbia County's director of the 911 Communications Center

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