The Rhode Island State Police this week launched Text-to-911, an enhanced system for dispatch centers that will allow people to send a text message to reach the state's E-911 communications center if they can't make a telephone call.
“Text-to-911 is an important and potentially lifesaving service, especially for anyone in a situation where they cannot talk safely on the phone or cannot physically call 911 for help,” said Lt. Col. Kevin M. Barry, acting superintendent of the state police. “It also will serve as a valuable tool for the deaf and hard of hearing, since it provides an easier, more convenient way to report an emergency situation.”
The texting system is not meant replace 911 calls, the police said. As with any text message, there is no guarantee that the message will be transmitted or received in a timely manner. Calling 911 is still faster and more efficient than sending a text, the agency said in its announcement, and there are limitations and restrictions when it comes to texting, especially when it comes to locating the person sending the text.
"That is why it is important to remember: Call 911 if you can — text if you can’t," the police said.
Gregory M. Scungio, acting director of the Rhode Island E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System, said at a press conference Tuesday that the agency has been working for five years to purchase and install the equipment, software and upgrades needed to implement the system. The system cost about $750,000.
The system has undergone extensive testing, including live testing that began last week. The first E-911 text received reported a large disturbance outside a person’s home in the Providence area. Dispatchers responded to the text and contacted local police, who sent officers to quell the disturbance.
“We were pleased to see the system work exactly as designed, giving this individual a safe option for contacting 911 considering the circumstances,” Scungio said. “We are confident this service will prove invaluable in the future, especially when it comes to providing emergency services to those unable to call.”
For more information, visit the system's website at ri911.ri.gov.