MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — Residents and visitors to Mecosta and Osceola counties can now text 911 in case of an emergency.

The service officially launched Monday, and allows anyone within Mecosta and Osceola counties needing assistance to send a text message to 911.

“We are pleased we are able to launch this service in both Mecosta and Osceola counties. This is just another tool so the public can reach emergency services when needed,” said Megan Erickson, director of Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch. “It’s always better to call, but there may be that instance in your life or your emergency situation when text may be helpful.”

Erickson explained texting may be a useful option in situations such as if there is an intruder in someone’s home, if the caller is dealing with a domestic situation or if a person does not have enough cell service to make a phone call, but still is able to send a message.

She added texting also could be valuable for people who are hearing or speech impaired.

“I don’t know how much the service will actually be used, but it’ll be vital to that one time when you could have used it versus calling,” Erickson said.

According to a news release, the text to 911 option was made possible due to a partnership between Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch and Peninsula Fiber Network, LLC (PFN).

PFN is a Marquette-based company which works to provide transmission services throughout the state, including supplying counties with Next Generation 911 services.

“We have worked closely with Meceola Central Dispatch to implement a system capable of supporting new technologies such as texting to 911,” said Dave McCartney, general manager of PFN.

Terry Vogel, technical manager with Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch, said there are a few tips people need to keep in mind when texting 911 in an emergency. These tips include not using abbreviations and stating the location of the emergency in the text.

“Don’t use slang. We don’t want anybody to be mixed up,” he said.

Erickson added phones must have the ability to send messages through a service plan for the text to 911 option to work correctly.

She said that if for any reason a text does not go through, the person who sent the message will receive an automated response informing them it did not send and they should call 911.

Theresa Vanatta, who has worked as a dispatcher for the past 15 years, said the text to 911 option is a good edition to the other methods they have in place to help people.

“We’d rather speak to people when we can, but this is a good tool,” she said.

Meceola Consolidated Central Dispatch and PFN offered the following additional tips for using the text to 911 option effectively:

• To text 911, enter the numbers “911” in the “to” field of the cell phone and do not include dashes.

• Include the location of the emergency in the text and a brief summary of the situation.

• Answer questions from the responding dispatcher and follow any instructions provided.

• Be attentive to the text message conversation by using short and timely texts.

• Do not use abbreviations or slang.

• Stay engaged in the text conversation as much as possible and do not delete the message or turn off the phone until the 911 responder concludes the conversation.