ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Alpharetta residents who have Verizon or T-Mobile as their wireless carrier can now send a text message to 911 when faced with an emergency situation.
The city is working with AT&T and Sprint to extend the service to those carriers’ customers as well.
Alpharetta is the first municipality in metro Atlanta to introduce the service. Only 100 emergency call centers out of more than 6,000 across the United States are capable of receiving and responding to text messages.
“The safety of our residents and visitors is our top priority,” said Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle. “The text to 911 service could be a lifesaver for those in an emergency who may be unable to make a voice call. As the Technology City of the South, we are proud to be among the first to leverage this capability to elevate the emergency services provided to our citizens.”
Alpharetta officials are quick to note that voice calls to 911 are more reliable and faster than text messaging.
“Unlike with a voice call, geographic location services are largely unavailable when someone contacts the 911 center via text,” said Alpharetta Councilman D.C. Aiken, who serves as liaison to the Department of Public Safety. “As a result, it could take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text to 911 situation, and in an emergency, seconds can literally become a lifetime.”
Belle Isle agreed, stressing that text to 911 should be used only when it is not possible to place a call and talk to a 911 operator.
“The service is intended mainly for those who are unable to speak, either due to a physical impairment or the nature of the emergency they are facing,” he explained.
Text to 911 messages have the same 160-character limit as other text messages. So, it is important to include specific location information and the nature of the emergency within the first few words of an emergency text. Citizens should also avoid using text abbreviations or slang, as these can cause confusion and delay vital emergency services.
Customers who employ “usage controls” on their mobile phones should remove the feature to ensure full text to 911 capabilities.
Text to 911 should be used only in an emergency that requires immediate attention from fire, police or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Alpharetta Department of Public Safety through its non-emergency line at 678-297-6300.