Ada County residents can now text 911 in an emergency

Posted at 5:57 PM, May 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-31 23:48:00-04

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — Those in Ada County can now send a text message to 911 to get help in an emergency.

To use the new system, all you need to do is text the three digit code, 911, from your phone's text messaging app, including a description of where you are.

Officials said having a system that enables a victim's ability to remain quiet while contacting first responders-- will help in certain violent crimes.

"Instead of answering the phone it pops up on our system... immediately enter into a conversation via text," said Bartlett. "Imagine a 911 call over the phone just via text message. It'll almost be identical," said Sheriff Steve Bartlett, Ada County Sheriff's Office.

All major phone carriers have tested the system and made sure it works in Ada County. In the meantime, dispatchers completed training on how to use the service.

This is now the first time Idahoans can text 911 on their phones, with the cooperation of all four major cell carriers: Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

And while it may limit opportunity for officials to pick up on voice stresses or background sounds analyzed in investigations...

"We would rather have that than somebody not have the ability to reach out for help when they needed that," said Bartlett.

Situations like this one a couple years ago are the reason why they're doing it: "Somebody had been kidnapped and placed in a truck and was being driven down I-84, and at that time they had to call 911 and because they were on the phone and their offender could hear them, it caused this unsafe situation," said Bartlett.

With the roll-out of the new service, officials hope to save more lives in Ada County.

"If you just think of some of the most violent crimes that occur-- such as a domestic violence situation where a victim of one of those attacks is trying to get away from their offender and they may be sitting in a closet or sitting in a car," said Bartlett.

And locating the victim works just like a call would, using cell towers to triangulate a general location. But for clarity's sake, officials urge you to always lead 911 texts-- or calls for that matter-- with detailed info on where the emergency is.

"For an example, if you're in an apartment building downtown Boise, and you text us-- text in to 911-- we may be able to locate the apartment building that you're in, but we would never know what floor you're on," said Bartlett.

And because of potential communication delays that come with texting as compared to voice calls, officials are warning folks not to give up on the voice feature just yet.

"We still prefer everyone-- if you have an emergency-- to call 911," said Bartlett.

It works like a regular text message but you cannot text emojis, pictures of videos.

Texting 911 is a capability that's been available for what Bartlett describes as "a year or so" in other parts of the nation.

"A few years ago we would have never thought we would have the ability to text 911, and yet here we are today."

It's important to note you can't text 911 using your computer on the internet. It has to through your phone's built-in messaging system. To learn more, click here.