Cell phone users in Lake Havasu City who are in an emergency, but can’t talk, are now able to text 911 for help.
The Lake Havasu City Police Department is the first law enforcement agency in Arizona to offer the service, which has become more popular throughout the nation after an FCC decision required all wireless carriers to deliver emergency texts to call centers. It’s been up to dispatch centers to catch up with the technology, which Havasu officially implemented today.
But, the service is not meant to replace voice calls in just any emergency.
“If you’re in a situation where you don’t want the person to know you’re calling 911, you can text, or if you’re hearing impaired. There’s a specific reason why you’re using this. Not just ‘I’m calling 911, but I prefer to text,’” Lake Havasu City Police Chief Dan Doyle said.
The department wants users to remember to “Call if you can, text if you can’t,” Havasu Police Communications Supervisor Priscilla Maloncon said.
The service has already proved to be useful. While dispatchers were testing the system, they received a text from a Havasu woman who had locked herself in her bathroom during a domestic violence incident and needed help. Dispatchers were able to communicate with the woman and send a police officer to her location.
That’s a good example of what the service could be used for, but calling 911 is best because it’s the quickest way to communicate, Maloncon said
Maloncon also said it’s important to remember that police and dispatchers cannot determine a cell phone user’s location immediately. That information is most accurate when the person is able to tell dispatchers where they are, instead of relying on data collected from cell towers that the phone is connected to.
There may be instances where the service may be unavailable due to roaming or signal issues. Users who are not able to be connected to a dispatch center will receive an automated message informing them that they should make a voice call to 911.
Maloncon added that with census data suggesting 17 percent of Havasu’s population is deaf or hard-of-hearing, the service will make it easier for those individuals to communicate in an emergency using their cell phones.
“It’s so simple, and such a valuable tool. Why not implement it?” Maloncon said.
Where is text to 911 available?
• Lake Havasu City, Barstow, San Bernardino County, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs, Beaumont, Banning, Indio and Ontario
What carriers support Text to 911?
• Verizon, ATT, T-Mobile and Sprint
What if my carrier isn’t a major cell service provider?
• Cricket customers share the ATT network
• MetroPCS customers share the T-Mobile network
• Contact your carrier to determine if text to 911 is available
Can you send pictures?
• No, but maybe in the future as technology advances.
How much does it cost?
• Nothing. The costs are included in the 911 surcharge tax, which is funded through major cell phone service carriers.