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(King County Image)

People in Seattle and the other cities or unincorporated areas of King County, Wash. now can text emergency responders for help, in addition to calling.

On Thursday, King County announced that all of the county’s 9-1-1 call centers are able to accept text messages. The new service is especially designed to help those who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired, or who might be unsafe if they were to be heard by an intruder or abusive partner.

(King County Image)

“This is an important day for some of our most vulnerable residents that are not able to make a voice call in an emergency,” said Ben Breier, program manager for the King County E-911 Program Office in a statement. “We’ve been working diligently to ensure that the necessary technology is in place to allow our 9-1-1 call takers to respond to emergency texts to get people help when they need it the most.”

Generally, though, King County officials continue to promote calling over texting. Officials say 9-1-1 texts have the same limitations as other text messages: they can be delayed due to wireless network traffic. And texting to 9-1-1 does not support receiving photos or videos, and can only respond to texts in English.

If you need to send an emergency text, here’s how King County says to do it:

  • Create a new text message with the numbers “911” in the “To” field.
  • Send the location of the emergency, including city, and the type of emergency help needed — police, fire, or medical — in the first message.
  • Keep text messages brief and concise.
  • Type complete words with no abbreviations.
  • Stay with your phone and being prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from 9-1-1 call takers.

Not all of Washington state has text-to-9-1-1 services. Some of King County’s nearby neighbors — Snohomish, Kitsap and Thurston counties — do, but Pierce County does not, and won’t until likely early 2019. Officials say if a text doesn’t get to a 9-1-1 call center that accepts them, wireless carriers will alert the sender to make a voice call instead.

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