The texting service is available in King County cities and unincorporated areas, as well as Snohomish, Kitsap and Thurston counties.

Share story

If you live in King County and can’t call 911 during an emergency, you now have the option to text.

The program launched Thursday, making King County the 12th of Washington’s 39 counties to offer emergency texting service, said Kayreen Lum, King County E-911 outreach and training specialist.

“This gives the deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired communities direct access to 911 that they really haven’t had,” Lum said. “It also helps people who can’t speak because of a medical emergency or those who need to remain quiet so they don’t escalate a situation like a home invasion or domestic violence.”

While texting is an option, Lum said King County residents should still call if they can. Because texts to 911 are treated like any other texts, messages can be delayed and it may take additional time for call-center staff to respond to texts. And while interpretation services are available over the phone, the current system only accepts text messages in English. Texts in other languages won’t go through.

The call centers can’t receive photos, videos or emojis over text. There have been national efforts to develop a system that accepts multimedia and texts in other languages, and the county hopes to expand to the new system once it’s ready, but that could take years, Lum said.

The texting service is available in King County cities and unincorporated areas, as well as Snohomish, Kitsap and Thurston counties, according to an E-911 news release. Pierce County expects to begin service early next year. If a text is sent to a 911 call center that doesn’t have a texting system, phone carriers will send an alert message to let the texter know to make a call instead.

Tips for texting 911 from King County E-911:

  • Include the location and city in the first message
  • Include the type of emergency help needed in the first message (police, fire or medical)
  • Keep messages brief
  • Don’t use abbreviations
  • Stay with your phone and be prepared to answer questions and respond to instructions

Officials remind people that they should call 911 only if they need emergency response from police, fire or emergency medical personnel. Some examples of when to call 911 include serious medical emergencies, fires, a crime in progress or life-threatening situations. For nonemergencies, people should call the local police or fire department’s nonemergency number. For more information about calling or texting 911, go to kingcounty.gov/911.