You can now text with 911 dispatchers in Madison County

There's a new 911 text feature available

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A new option for reaching 911 dispatchers in Madison County will help save lives.

Wednesday, the Madison County 911 center officially launched its text-911 service.

To use it, you simply put 911 as the number, and send a text message.

The service works with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, SouthernLINC, or Sprint.

For the deaf and hard of hearing, this is a game changer.

“The numbers show that 10 percent of your population is going to have hearing loss enough that it impacts daily activities,” said Frances Smallwood, president of Deaf Access, an interpreter service in North Alabama.

Michael Deuel is a case manager at the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Huntsville, who is also deaf. He spoke to us with the help of an interpreter.

He’s been advocating for this service for a long time.

“So many individuals reach out to me concerning accessibility and now we have that. And I think the deaf community, the hard of hearing community are thrilled and I’m one of them who is thrilled myself,” Deuel said.

Before texting 911 was an option, the deaf or hard of hearing had to use a video phone to connect with an interpreter, which could cost precious time in an emergency.

“If somebody broke into my house, I would run and have to get my VP and sit down and talk to the interpreter, but I would prefer to escape and then go somewhere else privately to text the dispatcher,” he explained.

Deuel says he also feels more empowered, knowing he can help others if he witnesses an emergency.

“We are responsible citizens to help other people in the community. So now with text, 911, it gives us an equal opportunity to use our services to protect other people.”

Texting 911 can also come in handy in cases of domestic violence or even abduction.

It’s important to note, calling 911 by phone is the preferred way for dispatchers, for those who can.

But for those who cannot, they can begin texting a message to ’911′ in an emergency today.

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