Public Safety Communications Center accepting texts to 911

Sheriff’s Office staff explains positive and negative aspects of texting in emergencies

Image courtesy Sheriff's Office
Image courtesy Sheriff’s Office

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Operations Bureau has announced that the Public Safety Communications Center (PSC) has begun accepting text messages to 911.

While other counties have deployed text-messaging solutions, the PSC has become just the second entity in the state of Florida to launch the Next Generation Text-to-911 services, a news release says. Among the benefits of that service is faster accessibility for people who are hard of hearing, deaf or speech-impaired, the release points out. “Text-to-911 will also help in situations when a crime is in progress, the caller is facing domestic abuse or when the caller is injured and cannot speak,” the release notes.

While the service offers a new level of convenience, emergency operations professionals are warning the public of the challenges that come with evolving technology, the release continues.

“While texting to 911 is available across Sarasota County, call takers have no way of pinpointing an exact location when a text message is received,” said Emergency Operations Manager Kris Adams in the release. “For that reason, it is imperative the user begins their message with a precise location and description of the emergency. With changes in technology and culture, written words and acronyms can take on completely different meanings,” she pointed out in the release. “For example, while acronyms such as ‘SMH’ might suggest ‘shaking my head’ to a citizen, our operators will receive that as ‘Sarasota Memorial Hospital.’ We can’t stress the importance of clarity enough.”

The Emergency Operations Bureau also reminds the public that text messages sent to more than one person, and text messages containing multimedia, will not be accepted. “If a text message contains a photo or video, or it is sent outside of Sarasota County, the user will receive a bounce-back message stating, ‘Please make a voice call to 911. There is no text service to 911 available at this time,’” the release adds. Members of the public are urged to keep messages brief and concise without abbreviations or slang.

The following wireless carriers, compliant with rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission, offer text-to-911 services: Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Users must have a text or data plan to use the services and, as with all text messages, those sent to 911 may take longer to receive or may not be received at all, the release explains.

“Voice calls to 911 are still the best and fastest way to get help during an emergency,” added Emergency Operations Bureau Capt. Jeff Slapp in the release. “Technology can be temperamental, and while we continue to adapt to these new services, we encourage citizens to call if you can; text if you can’t.”

The Public Safety Communications Center recently received the Technology Leadership Award for a Large Communications Center from APCO International, the release notes. Personnel will travel to Orlando this August to accept recognition for leadership in public safety communications, the release adds.

For more information on local text-to-911 services, visit the sheriff’s office YouTube channel at Additional resources are available for download on the Federal Communications Commission website at