Most of Santa Clara County, save for a few cities, can now text 911 in an emergency if they are unable to call.
"I am ever mindful that we live in a valley with a lot of people that need other ways of communicating with us besides just being able to dial 911 and speak with someone," Supervisor Cindy Chavez told reporters during a news conference in San Jose on Wednesday. "911 being able to text us is an opportunity to help more people and save more lives."
During an emergency, if a person in distress cannot call or speak to a dispatcher, texting is now another option to get help.
The service is available countywide, except in Los Gatos, Campbell and Morgan Hill. Those last three jurisdictions are working on launching the text service by the end of the year, according to Heather Plamondon, communications director for the Santa Clara County Fire Department.
Plamondon said the county had been piloting and testing the new technology for the last several months.
"The ability to have that secondary communications mechanism was something we wanted to be really confident with before we rolled it out publicly like this," she said.
As of Wednesday, the system is live and running. "We want to be leaders in this industry," she said.
While the technology for texting 911 is new to the county, the dispatchers on the line with people in need are not, county communications spokesman Nicholas Baham said. It's still the same people answering the phones, but now they can text back.
"It's very straightforward. For the public, there's not much change," Baham said.
Depending on your location at the time of the text, a person in need will get the local jurisdiction's dispatcher. For San Jose residents, Baham said, "if you typed 'I have an emergency' or 'help,' you would get San Jose [police] right now."
He added that the service doesn't mean dispatchers can track your location via text.
"It's used off of cellular data, and we actually can only triangulate you off of the [cell] tower itself. We don't track your location, its very difficult," Baham said.
While first responders aren't tracking your location, county officials say when someone is facing a dire situation, the text service can help expedite services.
Reginald Williams, assistant fire chief for the San Jose Fire Department, said "as our cities and counties prepare for disasters, this gives us another opportunity, another avenue, in which people can actually call 911."