LANCASTER, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — A red light in a 911 dispatch center normally means a dispatcher is on an emergency phone call. It now also means an emergency text.  

“As long as you have good phone service, you will be able to text into 911,” said Lancaster County Director of Public Safety Communications Robert Purser.  

The county started using the new software on June 1.  

Mobile phone users from all carriers will have the ability to send a text of up to 140 characters to 911 in case of an emergency.  

But due to cell service lacking in rural areas of the county, the feature may be more limited than an actual call. 

“We always prefer a voice call to 911,” Pursur said. “That is the quickest, most efficient way. But this is for that situation where you absolutely cannot.” 

Officials say text-to-911 should mainly be used if the caller is deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired.  

“One of the things that I see this being very beneficial for is if you were in a car with someone, and you didn’t want them to know that you were calling for help, or you were in close quarters for someone with someone you could text that information in,” Purser said.  

The feature is easy to use. Simply put 911 in as the person receiving the message, and text your need. 

Lancaster County Public Safety Communications Director Robert Purser says he expects his dispatchers to process emergency calls in less than a minute; he expects nothing less for an emergency text. 

“We ask that you type in your address and the nature of your emergency in the very first scene,” Pursur said. 

The texts come to dispatchers as fast as a regular text message. Purser says he expects his dispatchers to process emergency calls in less than a minute; he expects nothing less for an emergency text. 

“The processing of a call is not that much different,” he said. “We have automated responses that are one click. Things like that. So it is not that much different.” 

Once the information comes in, it’s pinpointed in another system that shows where calls are being dispatched to.  

“We just want to offer all the technology that we can,” Pursur continued, “all the latest technology to the citizens of Lancaster County, anything that’s available. And within our scope, of course, we want them to have it.” 

If there is an emergency and you are unable to make a call, it is important to remember the following steps:  

  • Don’t text and drive.  
  • In the first text message, send your location and the type of emergency.  
  • Text in simple words – send a short text message in English without abbreviations or slang terms.  
  • Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 call taker. 

The nitty gritty

The text-to-911 service is only for emergencies. It is a crime to text or call 911 with a false report. Prank texters can be located. A text or data plan is required to place a text-to-911. As with all text messages, messaging 9-1-1 may take longer to receive, may get out of order, or may not be received at all. If you do not receive a response from 9-1-1, try to contact emergency services by calling 9-1-1 and speaking with someone directly.  

Photos and videos cannot be sent to 911 through text at this time, and messages cannot include more than one person. Messages sent to a group that includes 911 will not be received.  

Voice calls to 911 are still the best and fastest way to contact 911. The text-to-911 service is not available everywhere in South Carolina or in the United States.