Lancaster Co. 911 to accept emergency texts

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Wednesday morning Lancaster County 911 will receive emergency texts, county commissioners said Friday.

It is intended for in an emergency situation who cannot talk or those hearing or speech impaired.

The county urged Verizon Wireless customers in Lancaster County should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911:

· Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.

· Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency. It may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text-to-911 situation because of the time involved. Someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and the 911 dispatcher must read the text and then text back.

· Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative since Lancaster County-Wide Communications will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text. Text abbreviations, or slang, should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.

· Customers must be in range of cell towers in the 717 area code. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county they may not reach Lancaster County-Wide Communications, which is in the 717 area code.

Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.

· Verizon Wireless customers who use Usage Controls should remove this feature to ensure full text-to-911 capabilities.

· Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. The solution is available for customers who use the native SMS provided by Verizon Wireless. Customers should consult their over-the-top (OTT) messaging provider to determine if and how text-to-911 is provided by the OTT application.

· The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire, or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to Lancaster County-Wide Communications through its non-emergency lines at:

717-664-1180 or 800-957-2677 for Police

717-664-1190 or 800-691-3473 for Fire and EMS 

SMS911 should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, attachments, or other recipients appended to the message.

Dauphin County has a similar program set up. It was activated several months ago, but is available to Verizon customers only.

Cumberland County is planning for a text to 911 system as well. It could be up and running in a year or two.

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