Chester County this week became the first in Southeast Pennsylvania to give residents the ability to text about emergency to 911.
The “Text-to-911” system was primarily designed for residents who are hard of hearing or speech impaired.
But county officials think the service has crime applications too – say during a domestic abuse incident or when someone is home during a break-in.
It’s not, however, seen as a replacement for calling 911, still seen as the most efficient way of summoning help.
“This is just another tool in the toolbox and another means for the public to be able to access 911,” said Robert Kagel, director of Chester County’s Department of Emergency Services.
Pinpointing a caller’s exact location can be challenging with texting, and critical time can be lost as the virtual conversation plays out.
Users in Chester County are being asked not to use abbreviations, answer questions quickly and briefly and provide as much information as possible in the initial message, especially when it comes to location.
Montgomery, Bucks and Delaware counties all have plans to roll out systems similar to Chester County’s.
Montgomery County will launch its service in May. Delaware County officials say they’ll follow suit in the next six months.
Bucks County is holding off until the service can be more accurate when it comes to finding people.
“They would like to have an accuracy of within several hundred yards, and, from what I understand, it’s not at that point yet,” said spokesman Chris Edwards. “When you make a 911 call, you want someone as quickly as possible.”
For now, Philadelphia has no plans for a text service.