NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - If you live in Newport News, you can now text your local first responders in the event of an emergency.
Residents will be able to use the "Text-to-911" feature, giving them the ability to send a text message to reach a 911 dispatcher from their cellphone or mobile device.
"For someone in a domestic violence relationship, having the option to text 911 is invaluable," said Cheryl Chavers. She is a domestic violence specialist with the Newport News Police Department.
Chavers says this new option is a "game changer," especially during this uncertain time.
"It has been very difficult in that we have seen an influx in domestic-related responses due to COVID-19 impacting families," she adds.
She says there are times when people are are in desperate need of help, but their abusers are close by.
"[They're] right beside [them], and that's part of the issue. Sometimes offenders will hover around and be in the vicinity, not allowing the victim out of their eyesight," Chavers adds.
In the event of an emergency, if you can voice call 911, police advise you to do so. By calling, dispatchers can gather more information, listen for distress in a caller’s voice and gather background information – all important information for first responders when going to an emergency. Additionally, texting may be subject to cell signal availability.
Text-to-911 should only be used for the following:
- If you need help, but cannot safely speak on the phone or are unable to speak. (Examples include abduction, domestic violence or active shooter situation.)
- If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled and there is no TTY available.
“We are really excited about this new service,” said Communications Administrator Fran Mangum. “In addition to helping those that may be hearing impaired, quite often, citizens may be in a dangerous situation - i.e., the potential for domestic violence - and cannot safely call for help for fear of being overheard."
When you Text-to-911, it's very important to provide your location before anything else. Then, explain the emergency and be prepared to answer questions, if possible.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules to begin the mandatory implementation of this service for all covered text providers to be capable of supporting it.
As for what you shouldn't do: Don't send photos or videos to 911, and don't copy others on the message; Text-to-911 cannot include more than one person.
NNPD wants to re-emphasize that if you can call vs. text 911, that you do so. If it isn't an emergency but you still need to get in touch with police, you should call the non-emergency number at (757) 247–2500.