Several victims in the Orlando nightclub massacre texted relatives to call 911, fearing they would draw too much attention by making voice calls. None could text 911 directly because Orlando is among the vast majority of U.S. cities that don’t have that capability, reports the Associated Press. As active-shooter and hostage situations become more common, police departments are exploring technology that would allow dispatchers to receive texts, photos, and videos in real time. Out of 6,000 dispatch centers nationwide, only about 650 accept text messages, with more than 150 making the text-to-911 upgrade this year, the Federal Communications Commission said.
Emergency officials stress that a voice 911 call is preferred when possible because a dispatcher can elicit details more quickly than texting back and forth. The major concern for many cities is that overuse of texting when it’s not necessary could slow response times and cost lives. In Los Angeles, which doesn’t have 911 texting, a police dispatch official last year cautioned that response times for text 911 could be triple that for voice calls. Nearly every municipality with text-to-911 service has sought to address the concern by promoting the slogan: “Call if you can, text if you can’t.”