Pitkin County is First Community in the State to Activate the New System

Pitkin County Emergency Dispatch has added a new service to its already robust 911 system that makes it even easier to call for help in the County. The “Text to 911” system was rolled out by Verizon Wireless and TeleCommunication Systems (TCS) in Pitkin County this week.

 “This new Verizon SMS911 National Gateway Service Offering is a breakthrough in emergency communication,” said Pitkin County Emergency Dispatch Director, Bruce Romero.  “Although texting isn’t always instantaneous and is a store-and-send technology, it provides an alternative to reaching emergency assistance when a voice call is not practical and when the texter is within the range of a Verizon cell tower,” Romero said.

Telephoning 911 will remain the prominent method for reaching emergency assistance.  “We like to say – ‘call when you can, text when you must’, “said Romero. “There’s nothing like voice contact when you’re in trouble, but if there’s no other way to reach us please, by all means, text!”

The ability to text a distress call to 911 in Pitkin County is expected to be a benefit to residents and visitors to the county, the deaf and hard of hearing and those in dangerous situations where making a sound would put them at risk such as a home invasion or similar situation.  “There could be a domestic violence situation, for example, in which the victim needs help but is afraid to speak. In this instance, texting could be a life- saving alternative,” Romero said.

Romero said emergency dispatchers in some cases will also be able to rely on what is known as “bread-crumbing” as a texter in a moving vehicle moves from cell site to cell site making it possible for dispatch to view the direction of their movement.  Officials say it is important to be mindful that text location is approximate and the texter should provide the location and nature of the emergency as part of the first message. Other factors to consider are that text message length is limited to 160 characters, slang and abbreviations should be avoided for the sake of clarity, and communication is limited to text between texter and dispatcher. Photos, video and additional recipients will not be accommodated with these types of messages. Verizon Usage Controls need to be removed to ensure full text to 911 capability.

At this time, text to 911 will only be available to customers with Verizon’s SMS service in Pitkin County as well as the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County.  911 does not work for non-SMS applications, including third party text messaging apps downloaded to the phone.  The three other major carriers have committed to providing text to 911 by mid-May 2014.

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