(TNS) - People can text 911 in an emergency in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, beginning July 1.
The 911 text will go to the Cleveland dispatch center if the texter is in the city. Outside the city the texts will go to the Cuyahoga Emergency Communications System, where call-takers ascertain the location of the emergency and relay the information by phone to the appropriate public safety dispatch, Brandy Carney, director of public safety and justice services, told County Council members on Tuesday.
The county is among a handful in the state that offers the option to text.
While everyone should call 911 first, texting to 911 provides a method for notifying emergency services when circumstances make voice-to-voice contact difficult, such as when a caller is hard of hearing or in a situation where they fear for their safety, officials said.
Carney said there are more than 25,000 deaf and hard of hearing residents in the county.
Texting would also be beneficial during an emergency when calls overwhelm the system, she said.
People who text need to provide their location and information about the emergency.
In 2013 the county purchased new emergency answering equipment for every dispatch center in the county. That technology has allowed the expansion to accept 911 text messages.
Phones by all major cell phone carriers will work with the county system, but county officials are still contacting a large number of small carriers to make sure they can route the texts, Carney said.
"In a roaming situation the text will bounce back and say it was not able to be sent and the person should call," she said.
The Federal Communications Commission requires all wireless carriers and other providers of text messaging applications to deliver emergency texts to call centers that request them.
The FCC publishes a list each month of 911 call centers that support text-to-911.
If someone tries to send a text to 911 where the service is not yet available, FCC rules require all wireless carriers and other text messaging providers to send an automatic "bounce-back" message that will advise the person to contact emergency services by another means.
In 2014 major wireless phone carriers agreed to support text-to-911 but it has taken years for counties and cities to upgrade call centers.
Hamilton County was one of the first to adopt next-generation 911 technology in spring 2014, which was limited to certain wireless providers and cities, according to govtech.com. The call center, which handles around 688,000 calls annually had received just four text messages by fall 2014.
But in one case a young woman was contemplating suicide and a friend urged her to call for help. She didn't want her parents to hear her on the phone, though, so she texted instead.
Ohio counties with text-to-911 capability include Butler, Geauga, Hancock and Montgomery. Lucas and Franklin counties plant to start the service, said Marty Berkowitz, media manager with the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.
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