People trying to report emergencies in Santa Clara County will soon be able to do so by texting 911 dispatchers instead of calling.
On Wednesday morning, the county Board of Supervisors plans to announce the official text-to-911 launch. The upgrade is part of a joint effort by several local public safety agencies—Sunnyvale and the city of Santa Clara launched similar programs in 2018—and part of a growing national trend to modernize emergency communications.
While jurisdictions that adopt text-to-911 programs generally urge the public to “call if you can, text if you can’t,” there are compelling reasons to opt for texting. For example, texting can help during home invasions, school shootings, domestic violence and countless other situations in which people are afraid of being overheard. The messaging system also improves access for the hearing impaired.
San Jose police dispatchers conducted a soft launch of the texting system on Jan. 1 this year and have so far engaged in more than 500 text-to-911 sessions, according to a just-released memo by San Jose Fire Chief Robert Sapien and San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia. San Jose fire dispatchers had their own soft launch on Jan. 22 and have so far used the technology in three cases.
Because there’s no coordinated nationwide effort to upgrade 911 call centers, the vast majority in the US still can’t field texted requests for service. And many jurisdictions are still struggling to promptly translate texts sent in languages other than English.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the telecom industry, all wireless carriers are obligated to provide text-to-911 within six months of an emergency call center’s request for the service. To find out if it’s available where you live, visit the FCC’s online landing page on the topic.