You can now send a text message to 9-1-1 in Fairfax County — and it’s critical to understand how the system works. Voice calls are still the best and preferred method for most people to contact 9-1-1. Remember this important phrase: Call if you can. Text if you can’t.
Text to 9-1-1 is intended for specific emergency scenarios:
- For a person who is deaf, hard-of-hearing or has a speech disability.
- For someone who is in a situation where it is not safe to place a voice call to 9-1-1.
- A medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech.
- If you are unable to call 9-1-1 due to being in a remote location with limited voice network availability.
Steve Souder, the director of our 9-1-1 center, discusses the primary uses:
Text to 9-1-1 is available within:
- Fairfax County
- Town of Herndon
- Town of Vienna
- Town of Clifton
- City of Fairfax
If text to 9-1-1 is not available in your area when you send a message, you should receive a message indicating that text to 9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by phone.
Text to 9-1-1 is available in less than 5 percent of the United States. Other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C., are planning their own launches of text to 9-1-1 in the future.
At this point, text to 9-1-1 in Fairfax County is provided by the following carriers:
English is the only language available right now for text to-9-1-1.
- Enter “911” in the “To” or “Recipient” field of your text message (no dashes in 911).
- Text in simple words — no photos, videos, abbreviations or slang.
- The first text should be short to include the location of the emergency and who you need: police, fire or ambulance.
- Be as specific as possible when providing your location. Provide as much of the following information as possible:
- Exact address to include unit/apartment number and city
- Business name
- The names of both streets at the nearest intersection
- Push the send button.
- Answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
As with all technology, there are some other key details you should know:
- As with all text messages, 9-1-1 text messages can take longer to receive, may be delivered out of order, or may not be received at all.
- Text to 9-1-1 is not available if you are in a “roaming” situation.
- A text or data plan is required to place a text to 9-1-1.
- Photos and videos cannot be sent to 9-1-1 at this time.
- Text to 9-1-1 cannot include more than one person. Do not copy your emergency text to anyone other than 9-1-1. Wait until you are safe to notify others of your situation.
- Prank-texters can be identified and possibly prosecuted according to local laws/regulations.