Texting 911 operators now an option for Routt County residents | SteamboatToday.com

Texting 911 operators now an option for Routt County residents

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The ability to send a text message with a cell phone has helped save lives in Routt County, and people can now text 911 operators directly.

Routt County Communications recently completed testing the 911 texting system, and they know it works with mobile carriers AT&T, Spring, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast and Union Wireless.

Communications manager Jason Nettles said actual phone calls are still the quickest and most effective way to contact 911 dispatchers, but there are some cases when that is not possible.

In recent years, emergency responders on numerous occasions have learned about incidents after receiving the information third-hand from someone who received a text message.

In rural areas, there are times when cell phones do not work except for sending a text message.

That was the case in February after two men were caught in an avalanche in the Flat Tops Wilderness.

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One of the men involved was able to send a text to his wife.

There have also been instances of people getting lost or hurt in the backcountry.

"I honestly think we'll be getting more of those types of calls," Nettles said.

Sending a text can also be the only option if someone feels they would endanger themselves by talking on the phone — for example, a domestic violence situation where someone is hiding in a closet or if there is a home invasion.

911 operators have the ability to respond to the text messages, but group texts, photos and video cannot be sent to 911.

When making voice calls to 911, operators have the ability to triangulate the location of the call, but they currently do not have that ability when texts are sent.

When texting 911, the first message should include an exact location and a brief description of the help that is needed.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

Tips on texting 911 in an emergency:
• Silence your phone if you are in danger or don’t want to be heard.
• Provide clear information about your location and the type of help needed in the first text message sent to 911. Emergency personnel cannot always determine your location.
• Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 dispatcher. Keep the text dialogue open until the dispatcher ends the dialogue, if it is safe to do so.
• Text in simple words – do not use abbreviations, emoticons or emojis.
• Keep text messages brief and concise.

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