The Cornelius 911 Center has recently added the text-to-911 capability as part of a national initiative to modernize the 911 emergency call system.
Cornelius residents and visitors, as well as students and faculty of Davidson College, who have Verizon, Sprint or AT&T Wireless can now send a short message service (SMS) text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call.
"The safety of our residents and visitors is our number-one priority and we will continue to improve our capabilities to ensure anyone can reach us at anytime. Text-to-911 could be a lifesaver in situations where a voice call is not an option. I congratulate our team members for their work in managing this project and setting an example for other public safety agencies to continuously improve services. Our Public Safety Dispatchers are honored to be among the first 911 Centers to provide this Next Generation 911 service to our citizens," said Police Chief Bence Hoyle.
"Verizon Wireless and TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS) have been at the forefront of working with public safety stakeholders to bring text-to-911 to our customers," said Richard Craig, director of engineering for Verizon Wireless. "The SMS911 National Gateway enables us to bring reliable emergency communications to public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country. We were proud to work alongside the Cornelius 911 Center team and TCS to deploy this new solution."
There are some significant limitations and issues the public should be aware of. This service is only available when your cellular phone is in close proximity to a cell tower in Cornelius or on the campus of Davidson College. Other 911 Centers who may not have this service implemented yet would not be able to receive your text, and in those cases you will receive an immediate "bounce back" message telling you to call 911 by voice.
Also, text-to-911 was not developed as a replacement or option to calling 911 in an emergency situation, but rather as an enhancement to reaching 911 services in two specific situations:
1) When the caller is hearing/voice impaired, or
2) When speaking out loud would put the caller in danger, such as a home invasion, an abduction, domestic violence situation, or in an active shooter scenario.
There are other important points regarding using the text-to-911 system:
- Customers should only use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.
- Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency. It may take longer to dispatch emergency services in a text-to-911 situation because texting back and forth is slower than voice.
- Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Cornelius 911 Center will receive only the location of the cell phone tower closest to the call's origin. As technology improves so will this capability.
- Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
- Text-to-911 have the same 160 character limit as other text messages. SMS should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video or other attachments or other recipients appended to the message. This too will improve as the technology evolves.
- The text-to-911 function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from the Cornelius Police Department or Davidson College Campus Police. The technology has not been developed to allow us to transfer text-to-911 calls to another service such as Medic or Fire, so if you need one of those services a voice call is required.
- For non-emergency situations in Cornelius and Davidson College, please continue to call the non-emergency phone number at (704)892-7773. Davidson College can also dial (704) 894-2178 from 8:00AM - 5:00PM Monday through Friday to reach Campus Police.
- Abuse of the 911 Center by sending fake messages via text carries the same penalties as if done by phone and such incidents will be prosecuted.
The Cornelius 911 Center joins the ranks of other Public Safety Answering Points that use the SMS911 gateway and is a significant step in making text-to-911 more available and effective. The Cornelius 911 Center will continue to research and implement new technologies to make the public safer.