The ability to text 911 during an emergency is coming to two Southern Oregon emergency dispatch centers, but officials say the feature should be used only when someone can't make a 911 call.
Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon and Josephine County 911 will be able to receive 911 texts from anyone in Jackson or Josephine counties starting Wednesday. The Klamath 911 Emergency Communications District is testing the service, called "Text-to-911," now.
The program is an interim software-based solution separate from ECSO's main system until permanent ability can be built in.
"The entire state of Oregon is working on that," said ECSO Director Margie Moulin.
The program cost $6,000 to install — $3,000 in each county — according to state 911 program manager Mark Tennyson. It will cost $5,862 a year to maintain the service in Jackson County and $4,080 a year in Josephine County, Tennyson said. The Klamath service will cost $2,100 yearly to maintain.
The program is paid for through a 911 tax that is collected on telephone bills, Moulin said. The service is also available in Clatsop, Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington and north Marion counties, according to the Text-to-911 website.
The service is intended to help people who may not be able to speak during an emergency situation, such as a home invasion or a domestic incident involving an abusive spouse. It is also for the benefit of those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment.
"We encourage everyone to call if they can and text if they can't," Moulin said. "The key thing to remember is it's going to be more efficient if you can call."
Users of the service should keep texts brief, Moulin said. Texters should use full words, typing a brief description of the emergency and their location in the text box, punching "911" into the number field.
"It's always key to tell us where you are first," Moulin said.
Staying with the phone after the text is sent is also key so callers can answer questions and follow instructions from dispatchers.
The service can only receive words, numbers and punctuation. It cannot receive emojis, pictures or videos, which will corrupt the call text. Group texts also cannot be accepted.
There are no language interpretation services available for 911 texts — that service is available only for voice calls — so 911 officials are asking texts be sent in English.
Inappropriate use of the service is considered improper use of an emergency communications system, a class A misdemeanor under Oregon law.
— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.