MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Using a phone to call 911 is the most efficient way to reach emergency help but what if you can’t talk on your phone? What if you can only text and you need emergency police help?

You can’t text 911 but that’s about to change. Texting an emergency call is on the horizon for residents of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Both counties are in the process of upgrading their 911 systems to give you the ability to text your emergency to summon help.

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Miami-Dade Police spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the department is “in the preliminary stages” of getting text-to-911 up and running.

Hernandez said Captain George Perera of the police department’s Communications Bureau is working on a plan and time-frame for when the feature will be working.   However, Brett Bayag, who manages part of Broward’s 911 system, said he expects the text-to-911 feature to be active in the next year.

“If you text-to-911 today, you’ll get a bounce back message that says texting is not available,” he explained. When it is active, Bayag said you won’t be able to text from third party apps.

“It’s limited to the native SMS or texting that’s available on your cellular phone from your carrier.”

Watch the report, click here.

The move to upgrade systems to be able to receive and respond to texts grew out of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.  Students who were trapped tried to remain silent or risk getting shot.  Unable to make a sound in fear for their lives, many texted 911.  Those texts were never received because the system wasn’t set up.

Texting to 911 has also been an important issue for the hearing impaired.  They’ve been pushing for it as it’s another life line.  How else could you call for help if you are out driving and cannot speak or have difficulty hearing?

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The nation’s largest cell carriers are now onboard for text-to-911.  Bayag said it marks the beginning of what’s called ‘Nextgen911,’ which should arrive in South Florida in the next 3 to 5 years.

“You’ll get a lot better location information when you are texting to 911. and you’ll be able to add pictures and video,” he said.

While being able to send a text message to 911 is a great option, it still doesn’t give the dispatcher everything they need to effectively respond to your emergency, that’s why they prefer that you make a call if you can.

“Were able to get a location of where you are better location of where you are, we can hear  voice tones, we can hear background information, so there’s a lot of information the telecommunicators can get, that you wouldn’t get via just a text message,” said Bayag.

So the bottom line is always call 911 if you can, but text, only if you can’t.

Here is the link to the Florida’s website with a wealth of information on upcoming enhancements to 911.


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