Three weeks out, only four 911 texts have been valid

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — The ability to text 911 has been live in Snohomish County for three weeks now.

The good news is people are making use of the service.

The bad news is that so far, 81 percent of the texts received haven’t been for emergencies.

Dispatchers are averaging two or three texts to 911 a day now in the county, as they expected, said Debbie Grady, executive director for SNOCOM, the dispatch center based in Mountlake Terrace. SNOCOM received 911 texts from 36 people as of Thursday.

Four of those reports were valid, and would not have been better served as voice calls, Grady said. Two were from deaf people and two were from domestic-violence victims — two populations the service was designed to help. The nonemergency texts included complaints about speeders and neighborhood noise, according to a SNOCOM memo.

The message remains, “Call if you can, text if you can’t.”

“We will ask people if they can safely talk and if they say yes they can then we immediately call them,” Grady said. “You should text only when a voice call is not possible.”

Texts from people only wanting to test the service have petered off since the first few days, but prank texts continue, Grady said.

Just this past week, someone said they were being robbed. When dispatchers began asking questions, the person “realized it was serious and their prank may have gone a little bit too far,” Grady said.

In such cases, police officers are still sent to make sure everything is OK. There’s been an assumption that 911 texts — including pranks — can be anonymous. That’s not true.

A text provides less accurate location information than a land line call. It takes more time to pinpoint someone, but it’s possible, Grady said.

No matter what, in an emergency, the text should include a location, Grady said. Messages also must be 140 characters or fewer. Some wireless providers will cut up long messages into pieces, which might not all reach 911. A short text allows dispatchers to establish a dialogue and ask needed questions.

“There will be lots of opportunity to include information, but if they make the text too long, we may not get the message,” Grady said.

Snohomish County was only the second county in the state to roll out the service.

So far, more than eight more counties in Washington either are testing the service or talking about it, said Laura Caster, a Snohomish County 911 manager. Seeing it launched here is “taking some of the unknowns away,” she said.

Dispatch centers hope to work with the various wireless carriers on the existing limitations for 911 texting.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

911 texting

Location information might not be accurate when texting 911.

It’s not anonymous, so don’t prank. They have your phone number.

Texting is not available in all areas and not available while phone is roaming.

Translation for non-English speakers is not available.

The service requires a cellphone plan with texting capability.

The 911 center cannot control the delivery of the message from the carrier. Texting is a slower method for reporting emergencies than voice calls, except for those with specific speech and hearing disabilities. It also is meant to help people who cannot safely make a voice call, including hostage situations and domestic-violence victims.

Keep messages brief. Texts are limited to 140 characters.

Do not text and drive.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

Heavy traffic northbound on 1-5 in Everett, Washington on August 31, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
On I-5 in Everett, traffic nightmare is reminder we’re ‘very vulnerable’

After a police shooting shut down the freeway, commutes turned into all-night affairs. It was just a hint of what could be in a widespread disaster.

Anthony Brock performs at Artisans PNW during the first day of the Fisherman’s Village Music Fest on Thursday, May 16, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At downtown Everett musical festival: ‘Be weird and dance with us’

In its first night, Fisherman’s Village brought together people who “might not normally be in the same room together” — with big acts still to come.

Two troopers place a photo of slain Washington State Patrol trooper Chris Gadd outside District 7 Headquarters about twelve hours after Gadd was struck and killed on southbound I-5 about a mile from the headquarters on Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge reduces bail for driver accused of killing Marysville trooper

After hearing from Raul Benitez Santana’s family, a judge decreased bail to $100,000. A deputy prosecutor said he was “very disappointed.”

Community Transit leaders, from left, Chief Communications Officer Geoff Patrick, Zero-Emissions Program Manager Jay Heim, PIO Monica Spain, Director of Maintenance Mike Swehla and CEO Ric Ilgenfritz stand in front of Community Transit’s hydrogen-powered bus on Monday, May 13, 2024, at the Community Transit Operations Base in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New hydrogen, electric buses get trial run in Snohomish County

As part of a zero-emission pilot program from Community Transit, the hydrogen bus will be the first in the Puget Sound area.

Two people fight on the side of I-5 neat Marysville. (Photo provided by WSDOT)
Video: Man charged at trooper, shouting ‘Who’s the boss?’ before shooting

The deadly shooting shut down northbound I-5 near Everett for hours. Neither the trooper nor the deceased had been identified as of Friday.

Two people fight on the side of I-5 neat Marysville. (Photo provided by WSDOT)
Road rage, fatal police shooting along I-5 blocks traffic near Everett

An attack on road workers preceded a report of shots fired Thursday, snarling freeway traffic in the region for hours.

The Port of Everett and Everett Marina on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Is Port of Everett’s proposed expansion a ‘stealth tax?’ Judge says no

A Snohomish resident lost a battle in court this week protesting what he believes is a misleading measure from the Port of Everett.

Pablo Garduno and the team at Barbacoa Judith’s churn out pit-roasted lamb tacos by the dozen at the Hidden Gems Weekend Market on Sunday, April 28, 2024, at Boom City in Tulalip, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Eating our way through Tulalip’s Hidden Gems weekend market

Don’t miss the pupusas, pit-roasted lamb tacos, elotes and even produce for your next meal.

Reed Macdonald, magniX CEO. Photo: magniX
Everett-based magniX appoints longtime aerospace exec as new CEO

Reed Macdonald will take the helm at a pivotal time for the company that builds electric motors for airplanes.

A guitarist keeps rhythm during Lovely Color’s set on the opening night of Fisherman’s Village on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at Black Lab in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
No matter what music you’re into, Fisherman’s Village has a hook for you

From folk to psychedelic pop to hip-hop, here’s a quick guide to artists you might want to check out in downtown Everett.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.