Text 911 for Emergency Response in Orange County

By Allison Economou

In Orange County, people in distress can now text their emergencies to 911 instead of making a traditional phone call. Enacted on Feb. 6, this new service operates throughout all of Orange County and allows speech disabled and hearing impaired community members to readily communicate with public safety officials.

“Every public safety agency in Orange County will and can accept text-to-9ll via cell systems,” O.C. Sheriff Don Barnes said, speaking to the service’s effectiveness. Although this service is new for Orange County, a similar system was launched throughout Los Angeles county in December 2017.

In order to send a text message, 911 should be made the recipient of the message, and the text box should indicate where the incident has occurred along with a brief description of what happened. Although dispatch will receive the location from where the text message was sent, the location should still be included, as the exact address of the messenger may go undetected.

“This information is crucial to get you the help you need… GPS location accuracy varies by carrier and should not be relied upon,”Irvine Police Chief Mike Hamel noted. In order to ensure that emergencies don’t get lost in translation, Hamel also stated that “messages should be sent in plain language… [without]… acronyms, short code messages, or emojis.”

Some important things to remember about the new service are that group messages cannot be sent to 911 and videos and photos cannot be included. For example, a person cannot simultaneously text his or her family members and 911 about an emergency. Another limitation of the service is that only messages written in English can be received and responded to.

When a person sends a text, the nearest dispatch center will receive the message. If the service is not available in the location nearest to the sender, it is required by the Federal Communications Commission that a bounce back message is sent with instructions informing the sender to voice call 911 instead. Although the new service does makes things easier for speech disabled and hearing impaired citizens, public officials still urge citizens to call 911 whenever possible, as it has the greatest guarantee of the message being received.

Through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, this new text service is free of charge for anyone to use. After four months of preparing for the service’s launch, it is now up and ready to be used.