SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Each day, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office dispatch center receives dozens of calls.
Now, those calls for help can be texted in to 911.
"Starting today, we're excited to announce the official kickoff of being able to text to 911," said Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
The new "Text to 911" system is available to cell phone owners with any service provider.
In the case of an emergency, the caller only needs to text to 911. The text will then instantaneously connect with a Sheriff's Office dispatcher.
"This is fast," said dispatcher Nikki Rowe. "This comes across as fast as texting back and forth would. As soon as the text is sent, the caller receives the text, the acknowledgment is on the screen and we can send another question."
The technology is a key addition to providing assistance to people who are speech or hearing-impaired, as well as victims placed in a dangerous situation where they cannot speak.
"It gives people that are both impaired or in a situation where they cannot explain to a dispatcher what their crisis is verbally because, say a domestic violence case where the perpetrator is still there, where they can text actually 911 and they need that assistance, so it gets the message to us right away and get us the ability to roll to that emergency, whatever it might be with emergency personnel," said Parkinson.
The Text to 911 system comes online just three days after the deadly Las Vegas shooting.
The mass shooting that killed 59 people is a stark reminder of how people can face a life-threatening situation at any time.
"I think that's a really good example of the fact that sometimes people don't have the ability to make a voice call," Parkinson said. "The sooner we get the call, the sooner we can get units on the way and the sooner we arrive, especially in a critical situation like that."
While the text to 911 system is fast and convenient, the Sheriff's Office still wants people to use the traditional call-in method when possible.
As a point of emphasis, the department is using slogan developed by the Federal Communications Department (FCC) that says, "Call if you can, text if you can't."
"We always prefer somebody to call because we can get much more information that way and ask questions, however, if they are in a situation where they can't, this is a great alternative," said Parkinson.
Text to 911 is an alternative that can save lives.
"Texting is something everyone is becoming familiar with," said Rowe. "It's a great system, the response is quick and hopefully everyone catches and we start using it more and more."
Funding for the technology is provided by the California Office of Emergency Services.
The Sheriff's Office joins several other local law enforcement agencies with the new texting service, including California Highway Patrol, San Luis Obispo police and fire departments, Arroyo Grande Police Department, Grover Beach Police Department, Morro Bay Police Department, Atascadero Police Department and Morro Bay Police Department.