Some Vt. cell customers to be able to text 911

Posted April 18, 2012, at 8:31 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont cellphone customers of the Verizon Wireless network will be able to text 911 emergency calls for help as part of a test over the next six months.

Known as “text-to-911,” the service is being tested elsewhere in the country, but has not been widely used yet, said David Tucker, executive director of Vermont’s Enhanced 911 Board, which oversees the state’s emergency telephone system.

Tucker said people should not text 911 if they are able to make a voice call.

Sending emergency 911 messages via text is intended to help people who are hard-of-hearing or someone who may be in danger and doesn’t want to be heard making a 911 telephone call, such as the target of domestic violence.

People texting 911 must provide location information and should not use texting slang. The emergency texts count against plan limits or customers are charged 20 cents for each message.

The emergency text messages will be answered by operators working in the same building as the state police in Williston, and operators there will dispatch the proper emergency service agency.

The E911 Board, Verizon, and Intrado, a Colorado-based emergency communications technology provider, are working together on the test at no cost to Vermont.

Tucker said people texting 911 should also keep in mind:

— Texts are limited to 160 characters.

— It could take longer to communicate because the 911 operator also will be communicating by text and sending a return message.

— The person must connect with a Vermont cell tower; if the text reaches an out-of-state tower, the sender will receive a message saying it did not go through.

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