New text-to-911 service launches in Staunton

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STAUNTON, Va.(WHSV) — If you live within the city of Staunton, there's a new way you can contact 911 if you need help. Instead of giving them a call, you can now send them a text.

The city says the service is live for everyone within the city.

They say they still prefer people to call 911 if they're having an emergency because it allows for more interaction between the caller and the dispatcher.

However, they felt texting was an important option to offer, especially for people with hearing issues or situations where you might not be able to call 911.

"If you're in a situation where you feel like talking about something may not be good,” Kurt Plowman, chief technology officer for Staunton, said. “We've heard examples at other locations where people at a party may not feel comfortable calling 911 about something they're seeing, but they certainly don't mind texting 911 with that information."

But the service isn't available everywhere, even near Staunton.

"There are towers that are in the city that may route calls to the county; unfortunately, some of those areas may not work, but essentially everything within the city limits of Staunton should be functional," said Plowman.

The city has tested the service with all the major carriers in the area, and all are functioning. The process works the same as a normal text message, but you simply text 911. A text message with a picture or video (MMS messages) may not work, because not all wireless carriers support those messages to 911.

All Virginia localities are required to have text-to-911 no later than July 1, 2020. As with traditional 911 phone calls, the system should only be used in an emergency.