Calling/Texting to 9-1-1

Text to 9-1-1



The Ontario County Office of Sheriff, 911 Center is pleased to announce the ability to receive a text message sent to 9-1-1 as an integrated service to our robust 9-1-1 network and equipment. Texting to 9-1-1 provides accessibility to the hearing impaired and speech impaired population and provides an alternative to reach help in a dangerous situation when a voice call is not possible.

Currently, the four major carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless and their affiliated providers offer the ability to Text to 9-1-1. However, this does not mean that the service is available in all areas. Should you be out of the area, for your Carrier, you will receive a message stating that the text service is not available and to call 9-1-1.

While CALLING 9-1-1 is the preferred method of contact, making texting to 9-1-1 available is important for situations when calling is not a viable or safe option. Some examples include: 

  • The caller is hearing and/or speech impaired
  • The caller is injured or suffered a medical condition, like a stroke, and cannot speak.
  • The caller is in a remote location and can only send out text messages.
  • The caller is facing a threatening situation and a voice call could increase that threat.
“Call if you Can, Text if you Can’t!”

The first text message that you send should always include clear and exact location information and the nature of the emergency. Like cell phone voice calls to 9-1-1, 911 Dispatchers will not know your exact location. The location services for texting are even broader than with cell phones which make pinpointing your location more difficult.

When texting, citizens are asked to avoid slang and abbreviations for the sake of clarity. Photos and videos CANNOT be sent to 9-1-1 at this time and texts are limited by SMS (Short Messaging System) restrictions to 160 characters. These limitations, however, may change in the future.

How to text 9-1-1 in an emergency: 

• Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field;
• The first text message to 9-1-1 should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help needed;
• Push the “Send” button.
• Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
• Keep text messages brief and concise.
• As with all text messages, 9-1-1 messages can take longer to receive and process.

Below are a few things to know if you need to text 9-1-1:
  • Text to 9-1-1 is not available in all areas, if texting to 9-1-1 is not available in your area, or is temporarily unavailable, you will receive a message indicating that texting 9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by other means.
  • A text or data plan is required to place a text to 9-1-1.
  • Text location information is not equal to current location technology for voice calls.
  • As with all text messages, 9-1-1 messages can take longer to receive, can get out of order or may not be received.
  • Text to 9-1-1 cannot include more than one person. This is known as group texting. Do not send your emergency text to anyone other than 9-1-1.
  • Do not text and drive!

    Calling from a Wireless Device (Cell Phone)

    When calling from a wireless device, it is very important to realize that you will generally reach the 9-1-1 Center for the area that you are physically located in, but not always. Cell phone towers are set up with three sides, or faces, and it is possible that your cell signal may be picked up by a "face" of the tower that primarily services another area. This could cause your call to be re-directed to the adjoining jurisdiction. This usually only happens if you are located near a jurisdictional boundary (county, city, etc) line.

    The greatest advantage of a wireless devices (cell phones) is their portability. However, in an emergency, this can also be their greatest DIS-advantage. 9-1-1 can locate most callers, most of the time. Different cell service providers utilize different technologies to locate their subscribers (you). Most are currently using Global Positioning Systems (GPS), however, a few are still using an older technology known as trilateration or triangulation.

    Various factors affect our ability to locate you in an emergency. If you have a phone that is more than about 10 years old and your cell service provider is one of those that utilizes GPS technology to locate the device, it is possible that we will not be able to locate you. Likewise, if your cell service provider uses triangulation location technology and you are in a very remote rural area we may not be able to accurately locate you.

    To learn more, check out this Wikipedia article.

    Calling from a Traditional Home Phone

    The technological infrastructure for a "traditional" home phone has been around and mostly unchanged since Alexander Graham Bell patented it in 1876. It is simply two copper wires used to transport your voice from one point to another. This is sometimes referred to as a POTS Line (Plain Old Telephone Service). The network used to connect you from end to end is known as the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network)

    When you call 9-1-1 from a traditional home phone we will generally know the address that you are calling from. Although not 100% certain (we must always make allowance for errors), this is the most reliable type of connection to call 9-1-1 from. This comes from the simple fact that the phone line is not transportable. If you have this type of service in your house, calling from a cordless phone (not a cell phone) would afford you the same level of reliability as a wired phone, except that many cordless phones will not work when the electricity is out whereas the "old" phone mounted to the wall will generally continue to work.

    Calling from a Digital Phone Service (VoIP)

    The most recent trend in home telephone service has been digital phones. These are officially known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones. As the name suggests, they use the infrastructure of the internet to transport your voice (and or pictures, videos) from one point to another.

    From 9-1-1's perspective, VoIP services fall into two basic categories, static and nomadic. Static service is one that is tied to a fixed internet connection (like cable TV) such as your home or office. These, like a POTS line, are very reliable because they are not very moveable. Nomadic VoIP uses a device that plugs into any computer or router and then any regular home phone plugs into that device. These are the most difficult for us to locate should you need assistance in an emergency.

    For more information, please see this Wikipedia article.

Contact Us

  1. David Cirencione, Ontario County Sheriff

    David Cirencione
    Ontario County Sheriff

    Emergency: 911

    Call if you can
    Text if you can't