It has been just over a year since the City of Santa Clara began offering Text to 911 services, but not all residents know about this offering and that, in an emergency situation, they have the option to send a text to 911 if they are unable to call.
According to Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) Communications Center Manager Judi Dziuba, SCPD has averaged five texts per month since the services began on Dec. 8, 2017.
“Providing Text to 911 services allows the deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired community direct access to 911 services as opposed to having to utilize a third party, such as a relay service,” said Dziuba. “This direct access allows them quicker access to help which, in turn, provides a quicker response. It also allows callers who are in a dangerous situation, when having to make a voice call would put them in further danger to reach help.”
One example of a time when calling could be dangerous and texting might be safer, Dziuba said, is if a victim of domestic violence believes their abuser would act more violently if they knew help was being called. Another situation, she continued, would be if a homeowner was experiencing a break-in while home. The homeowner could alert the police without tipping off the intruder that they’re home.
“The slogan for Text to 911 is, ‘Call when you can, text when you can’t,’” said Dziuba. “It is always better to call 911 when you can. Dispatchers can gain information and relay information to our first responders much quicker and more efficiently with a voice call.”
Once a 911 text is sent, the message will be routed through the triangulation of cell towers to reach the appropriate agency. If the text is sent from Santa Clara, Dziuba said one of two public safety dispatchers logged into a Text to 911 web-based platform at all times will answer. After the message is sent, the dispatcher will receive an audible alert, which will prompt the start of a conversation.
It’s helpful if the initial text includes the caller’s exact location and the reason they need help, said Dziuba, and to answer the dispatcher’s follow-up questions quickly to ensure assistance is received in a timely manner.
Although only SCPD, Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety and California Highway Patrol are currently the only departments in Santa Clara County utilizing the service, Dziuba said other nearby agencies will likely be joining the Text to 911 platform this year, and the training and service for the program was provided by the State 911 franchise, which makes it available at no cost to SCPD.
“Essentially, the Santa Clara Police Department recognized a need in the community and felt the service was important to provide to the callers,” said Dziuba.