R.I. launches emergency “text to 911” system

NORTH SCITUATE, R.I. (WLNE) — It’s an emergency service many say is long overdue. As of Tuesday, Rhode Islanders can now text 911 in an emergency.

“Text to 911 is a potentially lifesaving service, especially for someone in a life or death situation who cannot talk safely on the phone, or who cannot physically dial 911 for help,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Barry, the Rhode Island State Police Acting Superintendent.

“Text to 911” went live after years of work and about $750,000 in software upgrades at the State Police 911 call center.

“Text to 911 is very important for the deaf and hard of hearing community in Rhode Island. That way they can seek and get immediate assistance during any emergency,” said Pamela Zellner, Interim Executive Director of the Rhode Island Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

How does it work? Type 911 in the “recipient” field, then text a brief description of your emergency, as well as your exact location. Keep each individual message under 140 characters. Also, avoid abbreviations or slang, and don’t send photos, videos or emojis.

Officials stress that while texting 911 is a valuable tool in certain situations, it may take first responders longer to get to you.

“That is why we encourage everybody, call if you can, text if you can’t,” said Gregory Scungio, Acting Director of the Rhode Island E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System.

Folks I spoke to say having the option to call or text 911 is key.

“It’s very important both ways, but you should be able to have the choice,” said Rebecca of Providence.

“I think it’ll be very helpful, especially if you’re in a situation where you have to be quiet. So if you’re able to text 911, it’ll be easier to get out of the situation,” said Hadassah Duplan of Providence.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2019