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“A person is shooting at a crowd of people on 31st Street, at Oceanfront! One person is down.”
This is an example of the types of text messages accepted by the Virginia Beach Police Department as emergency calls.
The text service, “text-to-911,” launched April 2015 and is particularly valuable in light of recent shootings, like the mass shooting in an Orlando gay club, where victims were trapped inside the space. Following a recent story about cities nationwide that do not have the text service, the City wanted to remind residents Virginia Beach does offer the service.
“Our population is so transient,” Barbara Morrison with the City Manager’s office said in a phone interview. “We might have put this out last fall, but people move in and out. Especially with so many children having cell phones, it’s important for them to know this is available as well.”
Morrison stressed calls are always better because more information can be documented and used for a response. However, the texts are available to use for situations where a call is impossible or dangerous. The service should only be used by residents who are deaf, hard of hearing, or in a situation where it’s unsafe to speak.
The texts can be for police, fire or emergency medical services.
According to the city’s Emergency Communication Department, the location and type of emergency must be relayed in the first text because texting provides more limited information than a phone call.
To ensure emergency text messages are as clear as possible, the department warns people not to use emojis or slang when submitting their texts. A 160-character limit is set with each text.
Communication apps such as iMessage and WhatsApp will not work for this service.
Emergency texts must be sent only to 911, with no additional contacts added to the message.