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Washington County joins text-to-911 system

Washington County is among the areas where text-to-911 messages will be accepted.

Eight agencies in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington began the service last week. (Aug. 23)

But an official says that voice calls remain the preferred way for communications to summon police, fire or other emergency services.

“Most times, calling is the No. 1 way to get in touch with us for the most efficient service,” said Mark Chandler, performance manager for Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency, which operates the countywide emergency radio network.

Chandler said it’s easier with telephone calls to determine locations, relay information and give instructions.

“Where this could benefit is if there is some reason you are not able to communicate verbally on the phone — because of your personal safety or the situation you are calling about, or you have a hearing or speech impediment,” he said. “Then I think texting 911 is a good option.”

Chandler said location information on a text message is unreliable, and text users cannot use emoticons or emojis — icons with facial expressions — in their messages.

“If you use one, it will garble the entire text message,” he said.

In addition to Washington County, others offering text-to-911 service are Clackamas County, Lake Oswego, Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications for Multnomah County, Astoria 911 for much of Clatsop County, Columbia County, Clark (County) Regional Emergency Services Agency, and Marion Emergency Telecommunications, which covers northern Marion County around Woodburn.

The first such message was sent May 17 in Clackamas County. The regional network for text messages started up about three months later.

The service is not yet available statewide, according to Oregon Emergency Management.

Two years ago, the Federal Communications Commission required wireless carriers that provide text service to enable emergency communications centers to receive text messages.

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