Calling is still the best way to contact 911 in an emergency, but in certain situations, a text might be better. The Prince William County Office of Public Safety Communications can now accept text-to-911 emergency messages from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless customers who find themselves needing assistance in Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. The service should only be used when someone has a physical disability or special need where calling is not possible or when speaking out loud would put the caller in danger.
Certain communities will find text-to-911 particularly helpful, said Prince William Public Safety Communications Director Captain Alfred Miller. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, those with speech disabilities or who are unable to speak, and community service or suicide hotlines will find the service useful.
The texts can be up to 140 characters and should include the location and type of emergency. They should be short, with simple words, and without abbreviations or slang. People should be prepared to answer questions and follow directions provided by the 911 call taker. They should not text and drive.
Miller warned that there are some potential drawbacks to texting 911. “Just like any text message, there could be a delay in the pipeline sending it. It could be misdirected. There’s all kinds of things that could happen. It’s not as foolproof as calling 911. We always prefer to talk to people over the phone. What we’re trying to emphasize is ‘Call if you can. Text if you cannot.'” People who text a message to 911 and don’t receive an immediate response will need to make an emergency voice call.
Miller also warned that photos and videos cannot be sent via text-to-911; and the text cannot include more than one recipient, 911. The service won’t be available when cell service is in roaming mode and should not be used for non-emergencies. Rather, those types of incidents should be reported through the Police non-emergency phone number, 703-792-6500.
While text-to-911 is available in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., it is not available everywhere in Virginia and the United States. If a person texts 911 and the service is not available, the person will receive a response stating that the service is not available and they should call 911. A text or data plan is required to place a text to 911.
For more information about text-to-911, visit www.pwcgov.org/pscc.