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"Text To 911," new tool to reach out for help

Rochester, N.Y. - Technology that took years to create is now here.

Monroe County now offers “Text To 9-1-1.”

Software that allows the hearing impaired or those in a situation where they can’t speak to text 9-1-1 operators for help.

Meredith Low said she's finally glad the technology is here.

Low has had hearing loss since she was a little girl.

To call 9-1-1, she would have to rely on TTY or video relay for help.

“It's going to be super because I think at least people with Verizon cell phones who are deaf or hard of hearing are going to feel a lot safer,” Low said.

For now, the service is only offered in Monroe County and for Verizon customers but Monroe County Emergency Communications Department Director John Merklinger said it will make a big impact on a community with a large deaf and hearing impaired population.

“We certainly have a portion of the community at times who are in harm’s way or if they're hard of hearing or deaf, this could be the only way to reach us and it could be lifesaving,” Merklinger said.

Emergency dispatchers will be able to gather basic information and engage with the caller in 160 characters or less.

“You make one call, you send one text and you get the response that you need and the system takes responsibility seeing that that happens,” Rochester Mayor Tom Richards said.

An option Low said is good to have.

“We may not call 9-1-1 today but it's nice to know we can when we need to,” Low said.

Additional cell phone carriers are expected to offer “Text To 9-1-1” by August of 2014.

Important information for Verizon Wireless customers in Monroe County:

-       Customers should use the texting options only when 9-1-1 is not an option.

-       Using a phone to call 9-1-1 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous.

-       Customers must be in the range of cell towers in Monroe County. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Emergency Communications Dept.

-       Verizon wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages.

-       The texting function should only be used for emergency situations.

-       Text messages should only be used to communicate between the 911 center and the sender. Pictures, video, other attachments or including other recipients are not able to be accommodated.

 
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