Text 911 service available to most residents in Salt Lake County

Posted at 7:32 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-10 12:52:19-05

Editor's Note: Text 911 service is currently unavailable in Salt Lake City because of  technical difficulties. Call 911 in case of an emergency. 

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - Emergency services have rolled out a new text-to-911 service that could have a huge impact in the Salt Lake valley.

"I'm so thrilled," said Charla Dolan, who said she's hard of hearing. "I think this is really going to help people save lives."

Dolan said her husband fell down the stairs a year ago and hit his head. She needed to call 911 but wasn't able to because of her disability.

"Thank goodness my friend was there," she added.

To use the service, dispatchers explained someone needs to type '911' into the number section of the text screen, and then proceed to explain their problem via text.

"I received a notification that a 911 text is coming,"  Melis Garcia, Valley Emergency Communications Center dispatcher, points out on her computer screen.  "This text says there's an accident."

The service, has been implemented in Salt Lake, Weber, Morgan Counties, and parts of Davis Counties. It officially rolled out Tuesday, but has already been used for a couple weeks.

"I've answered at least a handful of texts," Garcia said. "One was a domestic violence call."

"Domestic violence situations are a great example," said VECC Operations Manager Gigi Smith. "Anytime you are in a compromising situation where it's not safe to call 911, this is helpful."

Dispatchers encourage people to call if they need to call, and text if they can't.  They say they can get a lot more information from a call because of the background noise and the caller's voice infliction.

Texting, they note, also takes longer.  Standing in the dispatch center, dispatchers note that it takes about 15 seconds for a text to reach the operators computer.