The Capital Area Council of Governments announced Thursday that it has deployed its "Text to 9-1-1" service across Central Texas after successfully testing that the region's 31 emergency call centers can reliably receive and respond to SMS text messages.

The new service is specially beneficial to those who are hard of hearing, deaf or speech impaired, CAPCOG said, urging residents to only text 9-1-1 when calling is unsafe or not possible. The organization offered the following examples of when texting 9-1-1 would be beneficial:

- The caller cannot speak due to threat, illness or medical condition.
- The caller has poor reception and can only send text messages.
- Phone lines and cellphone towers are overwhelmed and only texts can get through.

CAPCOG said the service is now activated on Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Sprint and T-Mobile in the following counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Travis and Williamson.

"Text to 9-1-1 is a great addition to emergency response," said Gregg Obuch, CAPCOG's emergency communications director. "However, the service has several limitations so residents should familiarize themselves with them before texting 9-1-1 and most importantly remember to 'call if you can, text if you cant.'"

Obuch said cellphone service providers only offer text messaging as a "best effort service," meaning providers do not always guarantee that messages will be delivered. He noted that texts can also take longer to receive or can be delivered out of order, adding that the only way to know that a text has been delivered is when the call center texts back. In cases where the sender believes the texts did not go through, Obuch said the best option is to call 9-1-1.

Other limitations Obuch mentioned include:

- Text to 9-1-1 is only available in English.
- Text to 9-1-1 does not work if the sender texts using group messages, emojis, pictures or videos.
- Text to 9-1-1 does not support messages sent through messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

CAPCOG said there are eight things to remember about how to use Text to 9-1-1:

1. Call if you can, text if you can’t.
2. Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field.
3. The first text message should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help needed.
4. Push the send button.
5. Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
6. Text in English and in simple words -- do not use abbreviations.
7. Keep text messages brief and concise.
8. Once you have initiated a Text to 9-1-1 conversation, do not turn off your phone until the dispatcher tells you it is OK to do so.

More information on the texting service can be found here.