When people in the Kansas City area need emergency help, they can now send a text message to 911.
Text-to-911 service has been growing more common among cities across the country in recent years and is now fully operational at all emergency dispatch centers in the Kansas City metro area, the Mid-America Regional Council announced last week.
Sending a text to 911 instead of calling could be a lifesaving option for people in situations where they can’t speak safely, such as home invasions or active shooter incidents, according to MARC.
It could also benefit people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have difficulty speaking, said Keith Faddis, public safety program director for MARC.
“Voice calls are still the best way to contact 911, but having the ability to text 911 could be the difference that saves a life,” Faddis said in a statement. “There will no doubt be a learning curve for people who use this new service, but we’ve already seen numerous situations across the country where texting to 911 has played a critical role.”
Emergency dispatch centers can respond to 911 texts in Cass, Clay, Jackson, Platte and Ray counties in Missouri and Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties in Kansas. All of the major cellphone companies in the area will carry the 911 text messages.
FCC rules require all wireless carriers to deliver text messages to 911 dispatchers. But most public safety agencies across the country have not adapted their technology to handle the text messages. Only a handful of agencies in 18 states provided 911 texting, according to the FCC’s latest data.
Kansas City follows several other metro areas that provide 911 texting, including Denver, Houston, Indianapolis and San Antonio.
Faddis said the Kansas City area was able to make the move at little cost because all of the call centers in the region use the same equipment and software.
“It makes sense in a region where many people travel from one county to another or across the state line on a daily basis,” he said.
Still, texting has limitations. Texts to 911 cannot include photos, video, emoticons or other multimedia elements. And texts sent to more than one recipient will not go through.
Voice calls allow dispatchers to gather more information. Unlike phone calls, text messages do not transmit the sender’s location, and 911 texting is not available when the sender is roaming.
If 911 texting is not available, callers will receive a bounce-back text message telling them to make a voice call to 911.
The do’s and don’ts for texting 911
▪ Enter the phone number 911, with no dashes, in the recipient field.
▪ Provide your address or location and the type of help you need — police, fire or ambulance.
▪ Be brief, but don’t use abbreviations or slang. Texts to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.
▪ Watch for a reply text from the 911 call center, and answer questions or follow instructions from the dispatcher.
▪ Use English, if possible. Translation services are not yet available for text messages to 911.
Source: Mid-America Regional Council