NEWS RELEASE #: 16-109
The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Emergency Operations Bureau announced today that the Public Safety Communications Center (PSC) will begin accepting text messages to 9-1-1.
While other counties have deployed text messaging solutions, the PSC is second in the state of Florida to launch the "Next Generation Text-to-911" services. The benefits of the service include quicker accessibility for citizens who are hard of hearing, deaf or speech-impaired. Text-to-911 will also help in situations when a crime is in progress, the caller is facing domestic abuse, or when the caller is injured and cannot speak. While the service offers a new level of convenience, emergency operations professionals warn the public of the challenges that come with evolving technology.
"While texting to 9-1-1 is available across Sarasota County, call takers have no way of pinpointing an exact location when a text message is received," said Emergency Operations Manager Kris Adams. "For that reason, it is imperative the user begins their message with a precise location and description of the emergency. With changes in technology and culture, written words and acronyms can take on completely different meanings. For example, while acronyms such as 'SMH' might suggest 'shaking my head' to a citizen, our operators will receive that as 'Sarasota Memorial Hospital'. We can't stress the importance of clarity enough."
The Emergency Operations Bureau also reminds citizens that text messages sent to more than one person and text messages containing multimedia will not be accepted. If a text message contains a photo or video, or is sent outside of Sarasota County, the user will receive a bounce-back message stating, 'Please make a voice call to 911. There is no text service to 911 available at this time.' Citizens are urged to keep messages brief and concise without abbreviations or slang.
The following wireless carriers, compliant with rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission, will offer text-to-911 services: Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Users must have a text or data plan to use the services and as with all text messages, messages sent to 9-1-1 may take longer to receive or may not be received at all. "Voice calls to 9-1-1 are still the best and fastest way to get help during an emergency," adds Emergency Operations Bureau Captain Jeff Slapp. "Technology can be temperamental and while we continue to adapt to these new services, we encourage citizens to call if you can, text if you can't."
Just this week, the Public Safety Communications Center received the Technology Leadership Award for a Large Communications Center from APCO International. Personnel will travel to Orlando this August where they will receive recognition for being a leader in public safety communications.
For more information on local text-to-911 services, visit the sheriff's office YouTube channel at www.Youtube.com/SarasotaSheriff. Additional resources are available for download on the Federal Communications Commission website at www.fcc.gov.