Santa Rosa County's emergency communications center now has the ability to accept 9-1-1 text messages. The technology expands critical access for the deaf and hard of hearing and provides a safer option for individuals in dangerous situations such as domestic disputes, home invasions or kidnappings. Dispatchers can receive emergency texts from all five area service providers if the customer has a text or data plan. No additional fees are incurred by Santa Rosa County residents for this service.
While texting has overtaken calling as the most popular mobile function across many generations and especially with millennials, emergency management officials stress that calling 9-1-1 is almost always still the best option.
"Texting should be used only in situations where you absolutely cannot make a voice call. The delay in typing an emergency text and a dispatcher typing a response costs us precious seconds. Those seconds can save the life of you or a loved one," said Scott Markel, communications chief. "There are also many additional clues dispatchers can discern based on the tone of the caller's voice and background sounds. If you are in an emergency situation, it is imperative that you call if you are able."
Additional information includes:
- Limit the initial message to the location of the emergency and the type of help needed. Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the dispatcher. Respond in full but simple words, and keep your messages brief and concise. Do not use emoticons or chat acronyms.
- A sample text would be: "Send police to 2000 Piney Wood Lane in Milton. Intruder in home."
- Dispatchers will first ask for a phone number and location of the emergency. Secondly, they will ask if the caller needs police, fire or ambulance then will connect them to the appropriate agency.
- Texts are sent differently than cell phone calls and do not relay location information like voice calls do. Since dispatchers cannot determine a location from a text message, it is always better to call if at all possible.
- If texting to 9-1-1 is temporarily unavailable or you are out of the area, you will receive a message to contact 9-1-1 by other means (voice call or telecommunications relay).
- Photos and videos sent to 9-1-1 cannot go through at this time.
- Text-to-9-1-1 cannot include more than one person. Do not include any other contacts on your emergency text to 9-1-1.
- Text-to-9-1-1 has been tested extensively by county officials; there is no need for anyone to test the new service. False texts to 9-1-1 are a violation of F.S. 365.172 and considered a crime.
- Always, call if you can, text if you can't.
Santa Rosa County public safety agencies have received extensive training in responding to 9-1-1 texts. Dispatchers can transfer emergency texts to other in-county dispatch centers such as Santa Rosa Sheriff; however there is currently no ability to transfer the caller to first responders in neighboring counties including Escambia, Okaloosa or Escambia County, Alabama. The text-to-9-1-1 service relies on the cellular carrier networks and availability or reliability cannot be guaranteed by Santa Rosa County.