Franklin County Sheriff's Office is now offering the "Text to 911" service. The department began testing the service about five months ago, said Chief Deputy Karen Hatch, and the department is confident it will work as needed.

"Most citizens in Franklin County can now send a short message service (SMS) text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call. This is available to wireless customers of AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon Wireless cell phones," she said.

Text to 911 was not developed as a replacement to a voice call to 911 in an emergency situation, but rather as an enhancement for callers who are hearing or voice impaired; a medical emergency renders the person incapable of speech; when speaking out loud would put the caller in danger, such as a home invasion, a domestic violence incident, or an active shooter scenario; and/or when on the edge of the cellular network where there might not be voice coverage, but text can get through.

"When in an emergency situation, remember, call 911 if you can; text if you can't," said Hatch.

Text to 911 does not give accurate locations, so those who use it should be sure to give their location in the first text.

Other important things to remember when using the service are:

      -Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency. It may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text-to-911 situation because of the time involved: Some must enter the text; the message must go over the network and the 911 dispatcher must read the text and then text back.

      -Providing detailed and exact location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since Franklin County 911 will initially only receive the location of the cell phone tower closest to the call's origin.

      -Text abbreviations, emoticons or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.

      -Customers must be in range of cell towers in Franklin County. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach Franklin County 911. The message could get routed to another county, but fortunately all of our surrounding agencies offer text to 911.

      -Texts to 911 from areas where the service is not available will receive a "bounce back" message explaining that Text to 911 is not available in that area, and to make a voice 911 call.

      -Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.

      -Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. The solution is available for customers who use the native SMS provided by wireless carriers. 

      -The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or EMS. For non-emergency situations, customers should call the non emergency dispatch number 208-852-1234.

       -Out of service cellphones will NOT be able to text to 911; there must be an active data plan for Text to 911 to work. 

      -Do not joke around. If you text to 911, responders will be dispatched.

      -Text to 911 should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter. No pictures, video, or other attachments, or other recipients can be appended to the message.

      -Do not text and drive. Please pull over if you must text 911.