Santa Clara County residents in need of emergency police, fire or medical services can now send a text to 911 to request a response.

Texting to 911 is a new option for residents who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech impaired or rendered unable to speak due to a medical emergency. The service is also encouraged for anyone who might be in a situation that could become unsafe if an intruder or someone else might hear them on the phone, according to Santa Clara County authorities.

“This new service will be critical in emergency situations involving individuals with disabilities,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “In dire circumstances, when every second counts, it’s good to know we’ve now made it a little easier to get help.”

Texting to 911 is available in unincorporated areas of the county, and all local jurisdictions except for Campbell and Los Gatos.

The Morgan Hill Police and Fire departments are ready to receive emergency texts via 911, according to city spokeswoman Maureen Tobin. The police department’s dispatch center has been testing the text to 911 system for the last couple months.

Authorities cautioned it is still preferable to call 911 by voice if possible when there is an emergency.

“We are excited about the opportunity for those in need of emergency assistance to find help via text,” Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing said. “In addition to asking the right questions for the situation, our dispatchers are trained to listen for background noise and tone of voice to inform our responding officers. This is why it is critical that those in need of help should always call if they can and text if they can’t.”

County authorities noted that the text to 911 service is intended chiefly in three scenarios:

• When an individual is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech disability;

• When someone is in a situation where is not safe to make a voice call;

• When a medical emergency arises that has rendered someone incapable of speaking.

“Texting to 911 is an extremely important new feature of the emergency response system in our county,” said county Chief Operating Officer Miguel Marquez. “I encourage everyone to take the time to learn how to use it. It can save your life or the life of someone you know.”

The county offered the following instructions for texting 911 in an emergency:

•   Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” or “Recipient” field;

•   The first text to 911 should be short, include the address and the location of the emergency, and ask for police, fire or ambulance;

•   Push the “Send” button;

•   Answer questions and follow the instructions from the 911 dispatcher;

•   Text in simple words – no abbreviations or slang;

Keep text messages short.

At the County 911 Communications Department, emergency calls are received through an automated call distribution system that sends calls to the next available dispatcher, a county press release explained. The Text to 911 messages enter through the automated call system.

All county 911 dispatchers are trained on the text to 911 service. The county operates a consolidated (law, fire and medical) emergency communications center that is staffed by 130 employees, including 80 dispatchers who answer about 45,562 calls per month, 62 calls per hour, 1,497 calls in a 24-hour period (491 of them considered urgent or emergency calls) and 546,750 calls per year.  

Dialing 911 in an emergency is still the preferred way to request help, and the public is reminded to “Call if you can. Text if you can’t,” county staff said. Texting is not always ideal because it takes longer than a voice call and does not provide the location of the texter.

The text to 911 function is available in English only. Individuals who do not speak English need to call 911 when they have an emergency, and an interpreter will provide assistance in their language.

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