The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that the Text to 9-1-1 technology would become available to residents effective immediately.
In a press conference held at the sheriff’s office in Brooksville, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said the year-long project allows sending texts to their agency if they are unable to call.
Customers with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile service can send a text up to 140 characters to 911 in an emergency. The first message should include the location and the type of emergency.
“Don't use typical texting language when you're texting to 911,” he said. “I think we all get used to the people we're talking to, using abbreviation and slangs and I think they're called emojis and things like that. When you're dealing with a 911 operator you want to leave those out.”
Hernando County is the second county in the Tampa Bay area to utilize the system after Sarasota County began theirs in late May.
Steven Porter, Communications Manager for the Hernando Sheriff’s Office, said although he’s excited about their new service, he hopes it isn’t used much.
“As a coordinator, I hope we never have to use this service, but again if one person is saved from it, it is worth every penny,” he said.
He mentioned that a service like Text to 9-1-1 would have benefited the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last month. A number of the victims hid in the bathroom to avoid the shooter and weren’t able to call 911.
However, there are some “drawbacks” to the system. Nienhuis said with texting, they’re losing valuable background noise and voice inflection.
“When we’re talking to somebody, a citizen on the phone, we get sometimes as much information from what we hear in the background as we do from the actual caller and we’re going to lose that in Text to 9-1-1,” he said. “So there is a little bit of a drawback there. Voice inflection, we’re also going to lose that, the amount of fear in somebody’s voice, so there are some disadvantages.”
Texters must have a text or data plan is required to place a Text to 9-1-1. Nienhuis said some of the other challenges, residents may face with the system is some messages may take longer to receive, come in out of order or not received at all; photos and videos can’t be received; and Text to 9-1-1 can’t include more than one person.
Hernando County is the 11th center in the state to utilize the technology as it’s not available everywhere in Florida. Texts also cannot be sent to outside agencies.
“We can’t transfer it outside the county,” Porter said. “Within the communication center, the person that receives the text is the only one that can at this time type the information, but I have a whole staff of people that can assist. But if we have to transfer it outside the county, at this time we can’t.”
Contrary to other media reports, Pasco County has not released a start date for a Text to 9-1-1 system.
Hernando County advises residents to remember these steps when texting: don’t text and drive and be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 call taker.
Callers also should not abuse the Text to 9-1-1 service by texting a false report or prank messages as they can be identified and located.