What-Comm 911 is now accepting 911 text messages from people unable to talk on the phone due to auditory and vocal impairments or emergency circumstances.
What-Comm 911 is a Bellingham dispatch center that typically answers 140,000 annual emergency calls in Whatcom County, according to the city of Bellingham website. The city of Blaine began using What-Comm 911 in October 2018 after having used the more time-consuming U.S. Border Patrol dispatch center.
Someone who is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech difference can text 911 in a non-emergency situation, but should identify themselves as having an impairment in their first text. Text-to-911 can also be used when someone is unable to speak because of a medical emergency, cell service is limited or someone is unable to safely call dispatch.
To use Text-to-911, people who have a text or data plan in their phones can send a message to “911.” The first text should include the person’s location and the help they need. After sending the message, people should stay by their phone to answer dispatch text messages.
The Federal Communications Commission advises calling 911 if possible; texting communicates emergency information slower than a phone call.
Text-to-911 is not available in all Washington counties and someone will receive an automatic text message if they try to text 911 in a county without Text-to-911.
The service is only available in English; texts are currently unable to be translated because the text is sent through a phone line and not the internet. Dispatch is unable to view website links, emojis, photos and videos in 911 texts, but additional evidence may be shown to officers when they arrive on scene.