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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The largest emergency communications facility in Alabama has recently integrated the ability to text for emergency services in Madison County.

However, Huntsville-Madison County 911 says calling is always the best option if it is the safest option available. “What we say is call if you can, text if you can’t” echoed Chris Tucker, the COO of Huntsville-Madison County 911.

There are several reasons why texting may not be the best way to contact 911. First, cell carriers do not prioritize 911 texts like they do calls. This becomes critical when determining a location of an emergency. If you do text, state your location and type of emergency right away if possible.

“The providers (cell companies) do not provide locations with the texts like they do with the voice calls,” said Tucker.

In most cases, verbally giving information to a 911 call taker is going to be more efficient. Texting will not provide information as quickly as a call would. “It does not get to us as fast as a person might think. Not only that, parts of the message may get out of sync and we may not receive them in the correct order,” said Tucker.

Text-to-9-1-1 should be considered a secondary option only to dialing 9-1-1 from a cellular or landline phone and should be limited to the following circumstances: 

  • When calling 9-1-1 is not possible, such as if the caller is deaf, hearing or speech impaired;
  • If a caller is otherwise unable to speak, because of a medical condition (such as a stroke), or
  • If speaking would be unsafe, as in the case of abduction, domestic violence, or home invasion. 

What to avoid:

According to HSV-Madison County 911, it is critical to avoid abbreviations or slang when texting 911. In fact, 911 says you should only text 911 if you are deaf, hearing or speech impaired, have been abducted or are in a dangerous domestic abuse situation.

“During the pandemic when families have been isolated we’ve unfortunately seen an increase in interpersonal violence. Both sexual and domestic violence. Often times people are isolated with the abuser and they don’t have a way to voice call.” said Adde Waggoner of the Crisis Center of North Alabama.

Hearing Impaired

Just as it will benefit abuse victims, the hearing and speech impaired community are eager to have a more efficient tool at their disposal.

“There was a time where the only way a deaf person could get help was to run into the street for help,” said Frances Smallwood of Deaf Access Inc., a small business that has served the North Alabama Deaf community for over 25 years.

Smallwood says back in 1988 those with hearing or speaking impairments could use a typing service to try and communicate their emergencies. More recently, video options have kept those with emergencies tethered to a computer where not all emergencies happen.

“With these barriers going away it’s going to help reduce the daily frustration on some level,” said Smallwood.

Madison County is one of the last in Alabama to adopt the 911 texting feature. Local 911 leadership says they wanted to ensure the technology was reliable for the growing infrastructure in North Alabama.

Do not test this feature

If you are leaving the Madison County region for another county and attempt to text 911. You may get a reply from your phone carrier that says you cannot text 911. Do NOT attempt to practice this. Just like calling 911 as a prank, texting when there isn’t an emergency is against the law.