Local News

911 now a text away for Durham AT&T customers

Posted March 13, 2014

— AT&T wireless customers in Durham can now text emergency operators for help.

The technology is made possible by Intrado, an emergency communications technology provider that installed next-generation 911 software allowing Durham residents to send texts to the Durham Emergency Communications Center.

“The way people communicate is evolving and 911 centers across the nation are evaluating how to adapt to the digital age we’re currently living in and offer multiple ways for people to reach out to 911 when they need help,” Durham Emergency Communications Center Director James Soukup said. “Since August 2011, Verizon Wireless customers in Durham have been able to send text messages to 911 and we’re thrilled that AT&T is now making this available for its customers in our community.”

Sending a text to emergency operators - by texting 911 - is ideal for those who don't want to be heard making a 911 voice call and deaf or hard-of-hearing residents who may be unable to speak, Soukup said.

Officials say those contacting emergency operators through texting should be aware of the following:

• Customers should text emergency operators only when calling 911 is not an option. It can take longer to receive a text message because someone must enter the text, the message then goes through the system, and the telecommunicator must read the text and then text back. Picking up the phone and calling 9-1-1 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.

• Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative since emergency communicators will not be able to access the cell phone location or speak with the person who is sending the text. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.

• Customers must be in range of cell towers in Durham County. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Durham Emergency Communications Center.

• Texts sent to 911 have the same 160 character limit as other text messages.

• AT&T wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. Any text message to 911 will count either against their messaging plan or be charged in accordance with their wireless plans.

• The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire, or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Durham Emergency Communication Center by calling its non-emergency line at (919) 560-4600.


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  • Phyxius1 Mar 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I accidentally hit the silent alarm code on our home alarm system one time by mistake. Within minutes I had a few sheriff cars in my drive and a call on my phone asking if I was alright from the alarm center. Don't know how the City of Durham police respond time wise but the county was super fast where I live. Alarm center had to notify them and then they dispatched the cars and it was less than 5 minutes max from the time I walked in my door. This is the only time in 20+ yrs I have ever had police to my house so glad it was as fast as it was.

  • stymieindurham Mar 14, 2014

    One other item. When you call the Durham Sheriff's communications, you ARE speaking to a communicator who is speaking directly to the deputy. None of that delayed computer assisted dispatching nonsense.

  • stymieindurham Mar 14, 2014

    Don't be misled by this article.
    When you call the Durham 911 center you ARE NOT talking to a law enforcement communicator (dispatcher). You are speaking to a "call taker". That person then enters the call into the computer. THE COMPUTER then prioritizes the call and sends the call to the communicator based upon "urgency". It's called "CAD", computer assisted dispatching. Now, how long do you think a "911 text" will take. Sure hope you're not in a hurry.

  • Phyxius1 Mar 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Could really use it in Raleigh this year too.

  • anotherbabyboomer Mar 14, 2014

    I was thinking this would be very useful if you were hiding from a bad guy and needed help but could not make noise.

  • Alexia Proper Mar 13, 2014
    user avatar

    Some text messages people write cannot be understood even when not under stress. Can you imagine these?

  • Obamacare rises again Mar 13, 2014

    That's a good place to start. They sure need it out there.