Text-to-911 service now available in RI

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Text-to-911 service now available in RI

SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t call 911 in Rhode Island, you can now text someone for help.

The state’s Department of Public Safety announced Tuesday they have launched a “Text-to-911” service, which allows people to send a text message to the state’s E-911 communications center if they are unable to call.

“Text-to-911 is an important and potentially life-saving service, especially for anyone in a situation where they cannot talk safely on the phone or cannot physically call 911 for help,” Lt. Colonel Barry said. “It also will serve as a valuable tool for the deaf and hard of hearing, since it provides an easier, more convenient way to report an emergency situation.”

Officials stressed that the text service should only be used if a call cannot be made, since calling is faster and more efficient. In addition, they said it may be difficult for first responders to locate someone through a text message while they can easily track a phone call.

Officials provided the following tips for Text-to-911:

DO:

  • Call 911 if you can; text if you can’t
  • Keep text messages short (No more than 140 characters)
  • Provide a brief description of your emergency
  • Give your exact location

DON’T:

  • Don’t contact 911 unless it’s an emergency (Police, fire or medical)
  • Don’t include pictures, videos or emoticons in text messages to 911
  • Don’t use abbreviations or slang in text messages to 911

“Ensuring the safety of Rhode Islanders is my top priority, and I’m glad that this critical public safety service is now available,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “Being able to text 911 will allow anyone to access to emergency services even if they are unable to place a call.”

According to Gregory Scungio, acting director of the Department of Public Safety, they have been working more than five years to purchase and install the equipment for the new service. He said it cost around $750,000 spread throughout the past several years.

“We were pleased to see the system work exactly as designed, giving this individual a safe option for contacting 911 considering the circumstances,” Scungio said. “We are confident this service will prove invaluable in the future, especially when it comes to providing emergency services to those unable to call.”

Scungio said telecommunicators have been trained to receive and handle emergency texts and additional personnel will be assigned to each shift to monitor those messages.

He said while the system has undergone extensive testing, it is still possible that text messages will not be sent or received in a timely manner.

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