No photos, no emojis, no group messages – the just-launched text-to-911 system can’t handle them.
But it can connect to emergency services when it isn’t safe to call 911.
“Maybe they’re locked in a closet, maybe there’s a situation where there are intruders in the home,” said Platte County, Missouri, Sheriff Mark Owen.
The Mid-America Regional Council announced Friday text-to-911 is now operational in the nine counties that make up the metropolitan statistical area – Cass, Clay, Jackson, Platte and Ray in Missouri; Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte in Kansas.
“This is an interim step,” said Walt Way, former director of the Johnson County Emergency Communications Center of the service. “We’re using old legacy technology to provide this text-to-911 service. The real way we’ll do it is when we implement what’s called ‘Next Gen 911,’ which is a fully digital network.”
For now, the service relies on TTY, the text telephone system commonly used by people who are deaf. Way said text-to-911 will help Kansas City’s hearing impaired community – about 60,000 people – summon help if they aren’t near a landline phone.
Still, Way urges people who can call to do so.
“That way we can hear tone of voice, background sounds,” Way said. “We get more information about where they are because frequently what comes through with the cell phone will be a generalized location.”
Owen added people should provide a specific address if they use text-to-911, as well as specify what type of help they’re requesting: police, fire or ambulance.
“Don’t send prank messages or try to see if it works,” he cautioned. “Remember, if you text us, we know your phone number, and we will find you.”
Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.