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September 07, 2016

New Jersey launches text-to-911 program for emergency services

People who need help in New Jersey have a new tool to request emergency services.

State officials unveiled on Wednesday a new text-to-9-1-1 program to serve citizens facing emergencies that require assistance from police, fire or medical personnel.

“There is perhaps no greater reason than public safety for [the] government to keep pace with today’s technology trends,” said Dave Weinstein, the state's Chief Technology Officer. “Every citizen now has an alternative, ubiquitous communication channel for interacting with emergency services personnel.”

The program was made possible through a partnership between state officials and the four largest cellular companies.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint supplied software and interfaces to dispatchers statewide.

State Attorney General Christopher Porrino is urging the public to use the text-to-9-1-1 capability only when necessary, stressing that a phone call is preferable.

“There are circumstances in which people witnessing suspicious activity, people in danger or people desperately in need of medical help cannot talk – but are able to text,” Porrino said.

When messaging 9-1-1, citizens should silence their phones, use text only, state the location and briefly describe the situation. Users should be as specific as possible when sharing their location, including the exact address, a business name, the nearest intersection or landmarks.

People who have speech or hearing disorders are also urged to inform dispatchers about impairments.

State officials also warn users that photos and videos cannot be received by dispatchers and translation services are not available. Messages should be sent in English only.

A majority of cities in the United States lack the ability to offer citizens a texting option.

Philadelphia is currently in the process of upgrading its 9-1-1 system to handle texts.

In neighboring Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties, however, the service has been available since the beginning of 2015.

New Jersey's system went live in July.