911 texting now available, but not in Florida

By Scott Johnson, General assignment reporter, sjohnson@wjxt.com
Published On: May 15 2014 09:59:20 PM EDT
Updated On: May 15 2014 11:46:06 PM EDT

Help via 911 is now available via text, but not everywhere. Channel 4's Scott Johnson found out Florida is not up to speed with this new technology.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

For the first time in the United States, anyone in an emergency situation can send a text to 911. The four major cellphone carriers began offering that feature this week.

But the option is only available in parts of the country because emergency call centers are not equipped for the new technology. Many states, including Florida, are behind the curve.

The closest community Channel 4 could find that offers this technology was 380 miles away in Georgia's Paulding County.

But local police agencies said people will be able to text 911 in our area — eventually.

“You have to keep up with technology and of course we have to as well,” Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said. “(It) could save a life.”

Like every other county in Florida, Nassau County has yet to adopt the technology to text to 911, but Leeper said he expects it to be installed late this year.

“Right now our 911 system is at the end of its life,” Leeper said. “We've applied for a grant and (we're) going to change our system hopefully by the end of the year to accept text messaging.”

Most other counties in our area said the same thing.

In a statement from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, officials said, “The 911 phone capability was not designed nor intended to accommodate text to 911 calling. This is part of the challenge of this new innovation.”

JSO added that Duval County will begin to phase in the technology in the next 18 months. St. Johns County said it expects the service to be available later this year. Baker and Clay counties do not have timetables yet.

Right now if you text 911 in most communities in Florida you get a message like this: “Please make a voice call to 911. There is no text service to 911 available at this time.”

But Leeper said when the technology is finally installed it could be useful in some cases.

“Of course it would be good in situations where someone is hard of hearing, unable to speak, or in a situation where it would be more dangerous to speak out loud,” Leeper said.

Experts on this system warn that once it is operational users need to understand that texts are not always instant. If the system's overloaded, they can be delayed, so if possible, a call is always better.

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