Law enforcement in Butte County is using text messaging to improve public safety.
Starting today residents can text 9-1-1 for help but authorities say it's an additional service, and not a replacement for actually making the phone call when possible.
Law enforcement in Butte County has a new way to protect and serve it's called "9-1-1 to text"
"This will allow people to use their mobile devices to text our public safety dispatch centers in emergency situations," said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea.
In certain emergency situations, you can send a message to 9-1-1 directly, it's a simple text, but there are some ground rules.
"It’s important that you spell out the words, that you don't use slang, you don't use emojis, because those can lend to confusion," he said.
Texters should also keep messages short so they aren't broken up by the cell phone carrier
"Be succinct and simple, short messages, very clear messages telling us what the problem is and where you're at," Sheriff Honea said.
While law enforcement in excited about this new service, it's not a replacement for the 9-1-1 phone call.
"We’re not able to gather as much information as we can when we're talking with someone on the phone, we can't hear what's going on in the background, and we can't hear the urgency in someone's voice," Honea said.
"Text to 9-1-1’ was developed as more of a way to enhance our 9-1-1 services, for people who are in certain- situations, like the hearing and speech impaired, that wouldn't be able to call ... or people that maybe they're in a medical emergency ... or where speaking would put them in danger," said Miranda Bowersox, PIO for the BCSO.
Another reason to still call if you can, is that text messages often have a delay.
"There are circumstances where you might be in an area where you reach a cell tower and you reach an agency that's then going to have to transfer you to the correct agency," Honea said.
The sheriff says texters need to stay engaged with the dispatcher after they send the first message.
"Currently the technology isn't to the level where we can guarantee that we'll know where you're at. That’s why it's very important for you to be able to tell us precisely where you're at, and what the emergency is, so we can get to you and hopefully take care of whatever the problem is," said Honea.
But as long as the text is used as a backup plan the traditional 9-1-1 call, law enforcement from every city in the county is on board with the new service.
"In this county we a have a good working relationship ... this is another example that we're all doing the same thing, getting on the same page, and that delivers a better service to the public,” said Chief Mike O'Brien of the Chico Police Department.
The text 9-1-1 service is available to anyone with a Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Comcast or sprint data plan.
Butte County is the first in Northern California to provide this service to residents.
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