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N E W S   R E L E A S E


Oct. 28, 2013






Julie McKercher; Emergency Communications Director


County launches Text to 911 for Verizon Wireless Customers


Verizon Wireless customers in James City County can now send a short message service (SMS) text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 call.  This service will be available to any Verizon Wireless customer within range of a cell tower located in the County.  Text to 911 is intended primarily for use in two emergency scenarios:  for those individuals who are hearing impaired and for those unable to make a voice call, for example during a medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech, or in the instance of a home invasion or abduction. Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.


“James City County is pleased to join York County, Poquoson, and the City of Williamsburg in implementing ‘Text to 911’ to further enhance our capability to provide prompt and efficient response times to our citizens in emergency situations,” said Julie McKercher, County Emergency Communications Director. “I congratulate our Emergency Communications staff and regional team members in successfully implementing this service for the benefit of all citizens both within and surrounding James City County.”


“Verizon Wireless has been at the forefront of working with public safety stakeholders to bring text to 911 to our customers,” said Marquett Smith, Region President for Verizon Wireless. “Our SMS911 National Gateway enables us to bring reliable emergency communications to PSAPs across the country. We were proud to work alongside the team in York County and TeleCommunications Systems, Inc. (TCS), to deploy this new solution.” 


Verizon Wireless customers in James City County should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911:

  • Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.
  • Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help.  Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.  It may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text to 911 situation because of the time involved:  someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and the 911 telecommunicator must read the text and then text back. 
  • Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the County’s Emergency Communications Center will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person 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 the James City County area. If customers are outside or near the edge of the County, the message may not reach the  Emergency Communications Center.
  • Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.
  • Verizon Wireless customers who use Usage Controls should remove the Usage Controls feature to ensure full text to 911 capability.
  • Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. Any text message to 911 will count either against their messaging bundle or be charged at 20 cents each. Customers on ShareEverything plans have unlimited texts as part of their plans, including text to 911.
  • The solution is available for customers who use the SMS provided by Verizon Wireless.  It is not available for third-party text messaging applications that can be downloaded to the phone or for applications that do not use SMS technology. 
  • 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 James City County Emergency Communication Center through its non-emergency line at 757-566-0112.


About the SMS Solution

The Verizon Wireless SMS911 National Gateway has three text to 911 delivery options: a web browser solution known as GEM911 for PSAPs (public safety answering points) with Internet access and web browser capability; a Direct IP solution for next-generation IP-enabled PSAPs with call taker workstations that have integrated text handling software; and an SMS to TTY solution for legacy PSAPs. 


The James City County Emergency Communications Center is one of the first PSAP to use the new SMS911 gateway; a significant step in making text to 911 available for PSAPs more broadly. The deployment follows the announcement earlier this year from Verizon Wireless and TCS to make available a national text to 911 solutions. 



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