Text-to-911 coming to a Central Florida county near you

Published On: Jul 12 2013 11:00:00 PM EDT
Updated On: Jul 13 2013 10:19:49 AM EDT

Every call to police can be a matter of life or death.

MARION COUNTY, Fla. -

Every call to police can be a matter of life or death. The latest numbers show that around 400,000 calls each day come from cell phones.

Now, police are giving you another tool to get in touch with 911: sending a text.

Local 6 recently spent a day at the 911 center in Marion County, which handles thousands of calls every day. It also offers a separate, 10-digit emergency number that you can send text messages to -- 352-351-9111.

"When that text comes in, a light will start flashing," says Karl Oltz, the 911 coordinator for Marion County.

He says the texting system was a prototype for the entire country when it launched three years ago.

"If a call comes in on that text line, then it is treated as a true emergency," says Oltz.

But things are about to get a lot easier. Next year, people in Marion County will be able to text 911 directly.

Under new guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission, the four main carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile -- have promised to provide a text-to-911 service by May of 2014.

"Most of the agencies, especially in Florida, are ready for it," says Oltz.

Right now, only Marion County has some kind of texting system up and running.

Orange, Osceola, and Volusia Counties tell us that they'll be ready by next year.

But Seminole, Brevard, and Lake Counties haven't yet decided if and when they'll offer something like this.

"I think it'll be very good because we'll have more information, live information as it was happening," says Oltz. "And it'll be more information that we'll be able to pass onto the officers."

But it won't just be words on a screen. You'll also be able to send photos and videos of an emergency.

"I believe it absolutely would save people's lives," says Oltz. He specifically thinks it would help victims of domestic violence.

We heard the same thing from Heather Wilkie, the Chief Operating Officer of the Harbor House domestic violence shelter in Orlando. Wilkie says text-to-911 will especially be a lifeline for people who are trapped in a room or closet with no way to escape.

"I think it would be helpful to be able to text to law enforcement, rather than having the abuser hear what they're saying, because that can increase their danger," says Wilkie. "Law enforcement can arrive at the scene quicker, and the abuser may not know that law enforcement is there."

Keep in mind -- if your local 911 center isn't set up to receive texts, you'll get a bounce back message on your phone. If that happens, your only option is to call police.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, click here.

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