Lieutenant Colonel Kevin M. Barry, Acting Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Acting Director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety, and Gregory M. Scungio, Acting Director of the Rhode Island E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System, announce the launch of Text-to-911, which will enable people to send a text message to the state’s E-911 communications center if they are unable to call 911 by phone.

“Text-to-911 is an important and potentially life-saving service, especially for anyone in a situation where they cannot talk safely on the phone or cannot physically call 911 for help,” Lt. Colonel Barry said. “It also will serve as a valuable tool for the deaf and hard of hearing, since it provides an easier, more convenient way to report an emergency situation.”

Calling 911 is still the preferred method of contact, because it’s faster and more efficient than sending a text. There also are limitations and restrictions when it comes to texting, especially when it comes to locating the person sending the text.

That is why it is important to remember: Call 911 if you can – text if you can’t.

Director Scungio said his agency has been working for more than five years to purchase and install the equipment, software and upgrades needed to create the Next Generation 911 – or NG 911 system that supports the Text-to-911 service. The total cost is approximately $750,000, spread over the past several years.

Over the past several weeks, the agency’s telecommunicators have been trained in all facets of handling emergency texts and additional personnel will be assigned to each shift to handle the text messages, given the additional time needed to process and respond to them.

The Text-to-911 system has undergone extensive testing, including live testing that began last week. The first E-911 text received reported a large disturbance outside a person’s home. Telecommunicators were able to respond to the text and contacted local authorities, who sent police to the home to quell the disturbance.

“We were pleased to see the system work exactly as designed, giving this individual a safe option for contacting 911 considering the circumstances,” Director Scungio said. “We are confident this service will prove invaluable in the future, especially when it comes to providing emergency services to those unable to call.”

“Ensuring the safety of Rhode Islanders is my top priority, and I’m glad that this critical public safety service is now available,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “Being able to text 911 will allow anyone to access to emergency services even if they are unable to place a call.” 

Pamela Zellner, Interim Executive Director of the Rhode Island Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said, “On behalf of 210,000 deaf and hard of hearing Rhode Islanders, we are extremely appreciative of Rhode Island E-911 and their efforts to upgrade the 911 platform over the past couple of years. The upgraded E-911 platform will enable Text-to-911 service, a vital service when text-enabled messages are the primary source of communication for deaf and hard of hearing citizens during times of emergency.”

Director Scungio reminds people that sending a text message to 911 should be used only when placing a voice call to 911 is not an option. There is no guarantee that a text message will be sent or received in a timely manner, if at all. For other restrictions, please visit the Rhode Island E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System website at ri911.ri.gov

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