911 Texts by Cyan Cowap

Help is just a text away: 911 messaging now active

IN EMERGENCIES where calling 911 would further endanger one’s life, people have gotten creative with summoning help the traditional way. One popular suggestion on the Internet involves calling 911 and pretending to order a pizza so as not to arouse suspicion.

In Portland, at least, these suggestions are no longer necessary: a Text to 911 system has been available in the city, as well as in surrounding counties, since Aug. 23.

According to the website of the City of Portland, the service is intended to benefit those who would be put in further danger by calling 911, such as victims of a home invasion or those who are not able to use conventional emergency services, such as the deaf or hard-of-hearing.

To send an emergency message to 911, simply enter “911” into the recipient field with no dashes or spaces, type your message and hit “send.” Texting 911 does not incur extra fees.

Laura Wolfe, Bureau Liaison Manager for the Bureau of Emergency Communications for the City of Portland, said that the program was a response to a growing change in the way people communicate in their daily lives.

“We know that more and more, much communication is done via text messaging,” Wolfe said. “In order to meet that need, we decided to move forward as a region to put this in place.” Wolfe said the rest of Oregon will adopt the system within a year.

Anais Gurrola ’19 believed the system would be helpful, especially in certain dangerous situations.

“[Texting 911] would definitely make sense, especially in a situation where someone is right in front of you and you can’t actually call,” Gurrola said. “Or if you’re in an abusive relationship, it might be easier to text than to call.”

However convenient the service may be, Wolfe emphasized that calling is preferential to texting if it is at all possible. It is difficult to locate the origin of a cell phone call to 911, but it is even more difficult to locate the origin of a text.

“Location information is critical on these types of calls,” Wolfe said. “We don’t know where someone is calling [or] texting from. Our message is, ‘Call when can, text when you can’t.’”  

Another reason for this recommendation, according to the City of Portland’s website, is that emergency services cannot transfer Text to 911 inquiries to outside providers, such as crisis lines.

Tim O’Dwyer, Director of Campus Safety at Lewis & Clark, also reiterated the importance of calling the campus emergency number, (503) 768-7777, even if you do call 911 as well.

“If there’s a life threatening emergency, then people should call 911 first, but they also should call 7777 so that we know they’re coming,” O’Dwyer said.

He also said that campus security is better prepared than the city police to reach students in an emergency.  

“None of the other emergency providers know their way around campus” like campus security does, he said.

However, he did not believe that the service would change campus dynamics dramatically.

“There aren’t that many calls to 911 [from LC] anyway,” said O’Dwyer.

The Portland Police Department’s webpage had some additional tips for those who utilize the Text to 911 service:

Use only words and punctuation in your message. Text to 911 cannot receive pictures, videos, emoticons, or abbreviations.

Text to 911 is currently only available in English.

Gurrola summed up the simple utility of the service to many students: they could use it in a situation “where it would be harder to call than to text.”


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