King County gets text to 911 service

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Starting Dec. 20, residents in King County can now text 911 for help. King County is the 12th county in Washington State to offer the service. The technology boost is designed to work when it isn't safe or possible for you to call 911.

Norcom, the 911 call center for much of the Eastside, started testing the technology in November. As they were testing they got text messages from three people needing help, a domestic violence victim, someone reporting a man armed with knives, and a victim with a medical emergency on Rattlesnake Ridge who didn't have phone service, but could text.

Kitsap County was the first in Western Washington to launch the service in April 2015, Snohomish County followed the same month.

The slogan was "Call if you can, text only if you can't."

More than three years later that is still the case when it comes to deciding whether to call or text.

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​Operators say a call gives them so much more information.

"One thing we also get with live phone calls is background noise. We can hear more in tone of voice that we don't get over text." explained Jami Hoppen, acting deputy director of operations at Norcom.

For deaf or hearing impaired callers the chance to text is much faster than the previous system.

"This is something we've been waiting for for a long time. It's been a complex process because there are twelve 911 centers in King County, " said Thomas Orr, executive director of Norcom.

KIRO 7 checked with Seattle police about the new service and was told they prefer people still call 911, and reserve texting for deaf or hearing impaired callers, or for those emergencies where it is unsafe to call.

911 operators say call if you can, because texting back and forth also takes more time.

"With the life or death situations we deal with every day, seconds can matter," said Hoppen.

Pierce County is reminding residents it does NOT have text to 911 service.

KIRO 7 wanted to find out when the rest of the state would have text to 911 service.

"The state is currently in the middle of transitioning to a new Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet). This is the network that all 911 calls travel on to get to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) or 911 call center. Once this transition is fully completed (late 2019), we anticipate that the remaining counties will begin text to 911," said Adam R. Wasserman, Washington state enhanced 911 coordinator.

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