From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson
At the March 20th meeting of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, the Board heard a presentation on Orange County’s 911: Call if you can, Text if you can’t program. This program was implemented thanks to the efforts, collaboration, and partnerships of the Orange County Information Services Team with the managers for several of Orange County’s public safety answering points.
To help put this program into perspective, it is important to know and understand the history of the 911 communications system. First developed in 1968, the system was a land-line based system and operated using an analog signal. Then, about 20 years ago, the concepts of geolocation as well as making calls and sending texts wirelessly were introduced to 911 communications (Enhanced 911). Finally, looking forward, 911 is looking to move on to Next Generation 911, which will introduce a digital or IP-based 911 system, and allow for voice, photos, videos, and texts to flow from the public to the 911 network; according to staff, our current Text to 911 services have not yet reached this capacity. In the future, Next Generation 911 will improve the methods to communicate with 911.
Orange County’s Text to 911 Services allows for the ability to send a short text message to 911 during an emergency. These services can be used in Orange County through its 10 public safety answering points (PSAP): Apopka Police; Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA); Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) (including Orange County Fire Rescue); Orlando Police Department (including the Orlando Fire Department); Reedy Creek; the University of Central Florida (UCF); Winter Garden Police Department; and Winter Park Police Department. When a call or text is made to 911, the communication is transmitted to the appropriate department based on the person who contacted 911. For example, if a call or text is made to 911 from someone in an unincorporated area of Orange County, the communication would be transmitted to the OCSO.
It is important for residents to keep in mind that these services should only be used if the person in need of help is deaf, hard of hearing, or has a speech disability, or if a regular voice call to 911 would be otherwise dangerous or impossible given the circumstances of the emergency. With response time being a critical factor, Text to 911 may increase emergency response time. In terms of availability in the Central Florida region, this service can only be used in Orange and Osceola Counties; if a text is sent to 911 in an area without this service, a bounce-back text will be received. However, Seminole, as well as other counties, are currently in the process of implementing these services.
When utilizing the Text to 911 Services, staff stressed during the presentation that users should always provide the location as well as the nature of the emergency in the first text message to 911; these messages do not automatically provide PSAPs with coordinates for a location. Additionally, the use of abbreviations and slang should be avoided in texts to 911. Furthermore, wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages (including having sufficient access to wireless or cellular service). Certain text messaging or social media messaging apps may not be supported by Text to 911. Lastly, the Text to 911 Services are only available in English; Non-English texts sent to 911 may be directed to call 911 so that translation services can be provided.
Those who opt to use the Text to 911 Services should always avoid doing so while driving.
Residents who wish to view the full Board presentation may do so via the following link: http://netapps.ocfl.net/Mod/meetings/1. In addition, residents can also find more information as well as videos on the Text to 911 Services here: www.ocfl.net/textto911.
Remember, always call 911 if you can, but text if you can’t, given the circumstances of your emergency.