In an emergency but can't talk? Some Chicago-area residents can now text to 911

In an emergency but can't talk? Some Chicago-area residents can now text to 911

Residents of some northwest Chicago suburbs can now text 911 for help in an emergency. 

Those in need of police, fire or urgent medical care in the Northwest Central Dispatch System can now text 911 with their emergency when they are unable to make a phone call, the agency said this week. It urged residents to use the texting service only when making a call isn't possible.

“Texting 911 should be an option only when calling is not possible. A voice call is still the most efficient way to access emergency services,” the NCDS says in a statement.

The NCDS includes the towns of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Schaumburg and Streamwood, Prospect Heights and Rolling Meadows.  

It is the second emergency communications center in Illinois to offer this service after the city of Rosemont offered text to 911 in June, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Only users on the AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon cell phone networks are included in the service.

How to text 911

  • Enter 911 into the “To” field in your text messaging client. 
  • Keep your texts brief and include your specific location.
  • Be prepared for questions and instructions from dispatchers.
  • Do not text abbreviations.
  • Be sure to push “Send."

What to know before texting 911

  • Text messages can be delayed, get out of order or may never be received.
  • Determining the location where a text message came from is not the same as mobile phone location services.
  • Text to 911 is not available on devices that are in roaming mode.
  • If text to 911 is not available in the area, you will receive a message advising you as such.
  • Videos and photos can’t be received by emergency dispatchers.
  • Multiple people can’t be texted. Only send your text to 911.

While the NCDS is only the second emergency dispatch center in the state to offer text to 911, others are likely to follow. Chicago Police also offer a separate non-emergency TXT2TIP service, where users can send anonymous tips from their cell phones.

In a policy statement from January 2014, the Federal Communications Commission urged all wireless carriers who offer text service to provide text to 911 capabilities. The FCC also stated emergency dispatch centers should begin accepting texts from mobile users as their technology upgrades allow. 

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