Cons of Emergency Texting Not Stopping Big Cities from Text 911

The challenges of emergency texting are leading cities to launch text-to-911 services with the message “Call if you can, Text if you can’t.”

“Call if you can; text if you can’t,” Snohomish County, Washington, Dispatch Executive Director Kurt Mills told the Herald Net when a study found that the county’s emergency texting service was misused more than 900 times in 10 months.

According to, dispatchers say it’s easier to process a call than a 911 text.

911 texting services are designed for situations when calling could be unsafe, and also for hard of hearing or speech-impaired individuals to connect to public safety and emergency services. However, there’s a few caveats to the system’s utility:

  • 911 texting services usually do not handle video or photo messages.
  • Emergency texting is not available when a device is roaming out of its service area.
  • It can take up to several minutes for 911 dispatch to receive emergency texts, depending on cellular service.

Despite the cons of 911 texting services, Los Angeles County is rolling out Text-to-911 and New York City rolled out its program mid-year with next generation 911 service, which will handle photos, video and social media interaction, by 2022, according to City and State New York.

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.