Texting 911 is now supported by the Cortez Communications Center for Montezuma and Dolores Counties.
Lori Johnson, communication supervisor at the center, said dispatch “saw a need for it in our area.”
Almost two years ago, Johnson got a call from a woman in Weber Canyon, south of Mancos. The woman said limited cell service makes calls difficult from her home, a common occurrence in southwest Colorado.
The ability to text 911 also helps people with impaired hearing or in situations where speaking threatens their safety.
Part of the campaign’s launch is a reminder to “call if you can, text if you can’t.” Calling is more efficient for exchanging information, Johnson said. But if texting is your best option for reporting an emergency, Johnson offered tips to make your message effective for dispatch and your safety.
Keep it Short and Descriptive
“If we can get the location and what the problem is, then we can get you help,” Johnson said.
Your initial text should include those two bits of information and not much more. Text messages can get broken up if they’re too long (over 160 characters) and possibly sent out of order. Johnson said, so far, messages sent to the center have been short and arrived as a single text.
What to Expect
The first message you’ll receive, Johnson said, is an automated confirmation and a reminder to call, if possible. From there, dispatch protocol operates over text in the same way as a phone call: answer follow-up questions and prepare for instructions.
If you’re in an area where the nearest cell tower cannot process your text, you’ll receive a message about its unavailability and to call instead. Johnson said areas like Mesa Verde National Park are unaffected and emergency texts generally work from within the park.
You Can Send Pictures and Video
If the situation calls for it, dispatch can receive both pictures and video. After sending the media as you would for any other text, dispatch gets it just a few seconds later via email.
“It’s pretty instantaneous,” Johnson said. “Within seconds.”
At the End of the Day, It’s an Emergency Service
Texting 911 is just like calling 911 — only to be used in emergency situations. Not the time to ask, “How’s it going, dispatch?”