The easiest way to get help during an emergency remains to call 911. But a new form of communication is now available in Hamilton County.

An alternative to calling is using your phone and texting to 911. This is a historic move in the state of Tennessee.

“Texting is almost a God-send for people who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Hamilton County Resident Betty Proctor.

She lives with 95% hearing loss. When she’s had to call 911, it was not simple.

“It’s not always hearing,” she said on Thursday.

“It’s understanding. In order to get to that person, it was intermediate, intermediate. You’re wasting seconds.”

Things may have gotten simpler for all Hamilton County residents, including the 48,000 people in the county who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Now, you can text to 911.

“[This] has the capacity to save lives literally, as our first responders will be able to respond to emergencies quickly, said Hamilton County mayor Jim Coppinger.

Hamilton County becomes the first in the state to launch the county-wide service.

Senator Todd Gardenhire was a strong advocate.

“I have a little bit of an extra motivation,” he said during a press conference on Thursday.

Gardenhire is also hard of hearing. If this creates better access to first responders?  “I’m all for it,” he said.

If you decide to text to 911, you must include the address and a brief message describing the emergency. Then you will be in communication with a call-taker until help arrives.  This program two years took two years to launch.  Proctor says the new method is relieving.

“We can do something ourselves if we need to,” she said.  “It’s been a long time coming.”

According to the director of communications, four people texted to 911 for help within in June.

The county spent millions of dollars on upgrading its equipment to become digitally-based. Phone carriers charge a small fee for the texting option.

Tips for Text-to-911 in an emergency:

  • Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative
  • Keep text messages simple, brief, and concise
  • Service is available only in English at this time
  • Texts cannot include emoji’s, photos, videos, or other multimedia
  • Texts sent to more than one recipient will not go through

If 911 texting service is not available or temporarily out of service a caller will receive a bounce-back text message telling them to make a voice call to 911

“Traditional voice calls to 911 are still the fastest and most reliable way to reach emergency help and should always be the first option,” said John Stuermer. “911, Call if you can, Text if you can’t.”

The district encourages anyone who has any further questions to please contact our agency. We would be happy to provide further information and education on this service.