NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk has a new program that will enable residents to text emergency information to 911.

The service is free and works the same as a call to 911 does – a telecommunicator at the DEPR emergency operation center will receive the text and communicate with the person about their emergency within seconds.

To contact emergency services by text message, simply enter 911 in the “To” field of your mobile device and then type your message into the message box.

It is the same process that is used for sending a regular text message from your cell phone.

Newport News and Suffolk introduced a similar program to residents back in October. Virginia Beach and York, Poquoson, Williamsburg also use it.

Officials say it is important to make every effort to begin the text message indicating the location of where the emergency is occurring and what type of emergency you are experiencing.   

The newly integrated capability was put in place to provide an alternative method of emergency contact for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, speech-impaired, or otherwise incapable of making a phone call in the event of an emergency.

However, officials say residents are still encouraged to call 911 if possible.

“To be clear, this service is an ‘if you can’t talk, then text’ service,” said Tony Castillo, Emergency Communications manager. “Phone calls are the preferred option to receive emergency information; but, if you cannot make the emergency call, then send us your text, and we will get the emergency services to you.”

Users must have a service provider to send texts to emergency operators.

Photos and videos cannot be sent via text to 911 at this time. The text to 911 system currently processes texts in English; language translation is not currently available.

Those who need police or fire services in situations that are less urgent can call the non-emergency number at 757-441-5610.