AUSTIN (KXAN) — After years in the making, the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) has finally deployed Text to 911 service for the Central Texas area.

The service is now available on the four major cellphone service providers -Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Sprint and T-Mobile – in Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties.

“Text to 9-1-1 is a great addition to emergency response; however, the service has several limitations so residents should familiarize themselves with them before texting 9-1-1, and most importantly remember to ‘Call if you can, text if you can’t,’” said Gregg Obuch, CAPCOG’s Emergency Communications director.

Law enforcement agencies say Text to 911 should only be used when calling 911 is unsafe or not possible. Also, one should not assume their message was received by a dispatcher until a message is received in return.

“When you text 911, you should receive a text message back immediately,” said Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Ely Reyes. “If you do not receive a text message back, then that means our dispatch center did not receive your text message.”

If a sender thinks a text was not received, they should still call 911.

Examples of when texting 911 would be beneficial include:

  • The caller cannot speak due to a threat, illness or medical condition
  • The caller has poor reception and can only send text messages
  • Phone lines and cell phone towers are overwhelmed and only texts can get through

The service is also expected to be beneficial for victims of kidnappings, sexual assaults or abusive situations.

“There’s incidents where you’re hiding from the perpetrator and being able to text is going to give you the ability to get that help that you need without being heard,” said Texas Advocacy Project Executive Director Heather Bellino.

Other things to remember about Text to 911:

  • Currently only available in English, whereas call centers can 911 voice calls in multiple languages.
  • Do not send emojis, pictures or videos in the mssage
  • Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field
  • The first message should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help needed
  • Be prepared to answer questions after you send the message

CAPCOG started testing the system earlier this year. Austin was the last large city in Texas to implement at Text to 911 option. Nationwide, the Federal Communications Commission’s website shows more than 600 Texas public safety networks have or will have text to-911 programs up and running. Central Texas will add 31 call centers to cover 10 counties.