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RUPERT — Most people in Minidoka County can now send a text message during emergencies to 911 dispatchers when unable to make a voice call for police, fire or emergency medical services.

The cellphone must have an active data plan — out-of-service cellphones will not be able to send a text message to 911. No pictures, video or data can be attached to the message.

The service is available to AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Wireless cellphone customers, according to a statement from the Minidoka County Sheriff’s Office. If in doubt, callers should consult their over-the-top messaging provider to determine if text-to-911 is provided by an app.

The service was developed as an enhancement to 911 — not as a replacement for a voice call during an emergency, the sheriff’s office said in the release.

The service can be used if the caller is voice or hearing impaired, during a medical emergency when the person can’t speak or when speaking out loud could put the caller in danger — such as during a home invasion, active shooter situation or domestic violence incident — or when the caller is at a location where there may be text coverage but not voice coverage.

During an emergency, people are urged to call 911 if they can, or text 911 if they can’t make a call, the release said. Dispatchers respond more rapidly to a call — critical during life-threatening emergencies — so people should text only when calling is not an option.

The person should provide the nature of the emergency and detailed location information in the first test message because the system will initially only receive the location of the cellphone tower closest to the call’s origin.

The person should not use emoticons, slang or text abbreviations when texting to 911, so the intent of the message remains clear. Text messages are limited to 160 characters. Cell customers with usage controls should remove the feature to make sure they have full text-to-911 capabilities.

The person must be in the Minidoka County cell towers’ range and people outside the range or near the edge may not be able to reach the sheriff’s dispatch or the text may fail to go through if the person is in the basement of a multistory building, or buildings with thick walls or metal roofs.

If the text comes from an area with no service, the person will receive a message letting them know the message did not go through.

For non-emergency situations, people should call the sheriff’s office at 208-434-2320.

Twin Falls dispatch and SIRCOMM also have text-to-911 capabilities.

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