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Naperville, Ill., Now Allows Citizens to Text 911 for Help

Naperville, Ill., rolled out a text-to-911 option this week. Officials advise citizens to only use the service if a phone call can't be made. No pictures or videos can be delivered with the service at this time.

(TNS) — Someone in an emergency situation in Naperville can now send a text to 911 when it's not possible to call by phone.

Starting this week, customers who use Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile/Sprint wireless service can tap out a message to request police, fire or emergency medical assistance.

But the option should only be used when placing an emergency call cannot be done, such as if a caller is deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech impaired or if speaking aloud would put the caller in danger, said Jillianne Chuffo, an emergency communications supervisor for the Naperville Police Department.

"Text-to-911 gives citizens facing an emergency another way to contact 911 dispatchers for help," Chuffo said.

Voice calls are preferred because they make it faster and more efficient for dispatchers to get pertinent information during crimes in progress or to give lifesaving instructions, she said.

"While we want to emphasize that calling 911 is still the fastest, most reliable way to contact us, we know that offering texting as an option is critical in so many scenarios," Chuffo said.

The service has been around since 2014, when the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules requiring that text messaging providers enable Americans to text 911 in an emergency. As per the FCC, if a call center requests the text-to-911 service, messaging providers must deliver the service in that area within six months.

A text-to-911 program was implemented in Will County in 2015 and in Aurora in 2016.

Chuffo said the National Emergency Number Association determined in 2000 that the 911 systems did not support advancements in modern technology and developed the Next Generation 911 project.

Since then, legislation has driven the need for more advanced 911 system capabilities, which includes text to 911, she said.

The city completed upgrading its phone system in January to make it compatible with NextGen 911.

"This required the 911 dispatchers to be trained on the use and capabilities of the system," Chuffo said. "Several months later our system was tested and set up to receive text messages. Additional training was provided on policies as well as a hands-on individual basis and peer-to-peer."

Wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile/Sprint are responsible for implementing text-to-911 capabilities for their subscribers.

"Once that is available, we work with the individual wireless providers to test and implement their service in Naperville," she said.

To participate in the service, the first step is to enter the number 911 in the "to" field of a text message.

Next a person should type the location of the emergency and the nature of the emergency in the message field and press "send" button or the arrow when finished.

The texts should be short without abbreviations, slang or emoji, and the sender should be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 dispatcher.

Providing the exact location of the emergency remains important, Chuffo said, because wireless carriers do not provide phone coordinates to 911.

The text-to-911 service does have a few drawbacks. A text or data plan is required. And at this time, pictures or videos cannot be sent, and translation services are not available in Naperville.

If more than one person is included on the 911 text, it may not be received by the dispatch call center, Chuffo said.

As with all text messages, messages to 911 may take longer to receive, may be received out of order or may not be received at all.

Chuffo added the service is only for emergencies. Calling 911 and making a false report is a crime and so is texting 911.

©2021 the Naperville Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.