Text for 911 available in Southampton County

Published 11:49 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

COURTLAND—If you are a Verizon wireless customer in Southampton County, you can now send a short message service (SMS) text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call.

This is available to any Verizon customer within range of a Southampton County cell phone tower.

“The safety of residents and visitors in Southampton County is our number-one concern,” said Southampton County Sheriff Jack Stutts said in a release. “Text to 911 could be a life-saver, especially for people who might otherwise not be able to make a voice call. I congratulate my staff members for their work in establishing this service and for setting an example for other public safety professionals.”

Major Gene Drewery, Southampton County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said there are two situations where people might need the service.

“For an individual who is hearing impaired and for a person who is unable to make a voice call, for example during a medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech, or in the instance of a home invasion or abduction,” he said in a release.

Southampton County is the second public safety answering point in Virginia to accept Text-to-911.

“Verizon Wireless and TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. have been at the forefront of working with public safety stakeholders to bring text to 911 to our customers,” said Richard Craig, director of engineering for Verizon Wireless, in a release. “The SMS911 National Gateway enables us to bring reliable emergency communications to public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country. We were proud to work alongside the team in Southampton County and TCS, to deploy this new solution.”

Important information for Verizon Wireless customers in Southampton County:

• Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.

• Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.

• Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Southampton County Communications Center may not receive accurate location information. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.

• Customers must be in range of cell towers in the Southampton County area. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Emergency Communications Center.

• Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.

• Verizon Wireless customers who use Usage Controls should remove this feature to ensure full text to 911 capabilities.

• Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. The solution is available for customers who use the native SMS provided by Verizon Wireless. Customers should consult their over-the-top messaging provider to determine if and how text-to-911 is provided by the OTT application.

• The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office through its non-emergency line at 653-2100.

• SMS911 should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, other attachments or other recipients appended to the message.

Other phone carriers are working on developing a SMS option for 911 emergencies.