Emergency Calls
3:58 pm
Wed May 14, 2014

In Trouble? You Can Now Text 9-1-1

Verizon customers in Allegheny County can now text 9-1-1 during an emergency.
Credit Jessica Nath / 90.5 WESA

Being in an emergency situation is scary enough -- but what if you can’t even call 9-1-1?

Allegheny County Emergency Services is now taking that into account and is giving people the option to text.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Allegheny is one of the first counties in Pennsylvania to provide this option.

“Somebody that has inability to talk and verbalize in an emergency for whatever reason, whether it was a physical impairment,” Fitzgerald said. “Or if they were in danger and they were unable to make noise or unable to make a sound because somebody was trying to break into their house and they wanted to call 9-1-1 - they can now text.”

As of now, Verizon is the only cell phone company that provides this service.  However,  county spokeswoman Amie Downs said other companies could offer it, too, in the near future.

“The opportunity’s open to anybody,” Fitzgerald said.  “It’s not like we’re just picking one, as soon as they want to do it, it’ll be available to them from our 9-1-1 center.”

Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson asked that the text messages be short and concise but not have any slang or abbreviations.

“When you do send that text message to 9-1-1, try to provide the location information and nature of the emergency in the first text to 9-1-1,” Henderson stressed.  “It is imperative for our dispatchers at the 9-1-1 center to gain as quickly as possible your location so they can start to process that call.”

Henderson emphasized that people should make the call to 9-1-1 if they have the opportunity because texting is not instantaneous and can take about 10 to 15 seconds to respond.

Fitzgerald said this option could help in situations such as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“When those people are in dire situations, they can’t make a call, they don’t want to make a sound if they’re hiding in a closet or under a desk,” Fitzgerald said. “They were unable to text to let law enforcement know what was going on, now, again, they would be able to do that.”

However, Henderson said the texting option is geared towards the deaf community.

“This is just giving another opportunity in our initiative to be able to reach 100 percent of our citizens throughout Allegheny County, especially in this case, the hearing and speech impaired a viable means to contact 9-1-1,” Henderson said.