Contacting 911 by text message now available in LA County

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- In Los Angeles County you will now be able to text 911 to obtain emergency services.

State and local officials unveiled the new program Friday in Long Beach, saying the system was designed for those who are unable to place voice calls in an emergency.

The system was tested out with a pilot program at Long Beach State for three years. It is now available in most of LA County, as administrators continuing working out bugs.

Even with the new system in place, first responders would prefer you make a voice call because you can describe what's happening quicker than typing. The program's slogan is "Call if you can. Text if you can't."

But they gave examples of situations when calling might not be possible or safe.

RELATED: More details on how texting 911 works in Los Angeles County.

For example, it would be used if a domestic violence suspect or other attacker is nearby and you are hiding or concealing the fact that you are contacting emergency assistance.

The system also provides another means of communication for those with disabilities.

"This is very valuable for emergency responders who can interact with individuals with a disability as well as individuals who might be in a violent or hostage situation," said Richard Ray, the city of LA's Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, speaking through a sign-language interpreter.

For now, the system is only available in English. But other languages may be added in the future.

"Please send a plain English text," said Patrick Mallon, with the California Office of Emergency Services. "It helps to convey a clear message in a very expeditious manner."

Other guidelines include avoiding the use of abbreviations or emojis. Also photos and videos cannot be sent to 911 and texting to 911 is not available if you are roaming. The service is also not available if the wireless carrier cannot determine the location of the device sending the message.
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