December 7, 2023

Text-to-911: Call if You Can, Text if You Can’t During an Emergency

The service allows residents to contact 911 dispatchers via text message.

Text to 911

If you are in an emergency but can’t dial 9-1-1 for help, you can use text-to-911 to send a text message to emergency call takers from your smartphone or device. It’s one of many digital tools Emergency Communications and Citizen Services offers City of Virginia Beach residents.

The service allows residents who are deaf, hard of hearing, unable to speak, or who may be in a situation where it is unsafe for them to speak, a way to contact 911 by sending a text message to request emergency services from police, fire, or emergency medical services.

Currently available in certain locations, Virginia Beach is one of the first cities in Hampton Roads to offer the text-to-911 service.

Texting 911

It’s important to note that calling 9-1-1 is preferred as texting provides limited location information. Here are a few tips when using text-to-911.

  • Provide the location and nature of the emergency in the first text. This will enable help to be dispatched as quickly as possible.
  • Texting should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated by calling the non-emergency number, 757-385-5000.
  • Do not use slang, text speak, emojis or abbreviations. This will ensure clear and concise information is relayed to emergency dispatchers.
  • 911 messages can take longer to receive, can be received out of order, or may not be received at all.
  • Service can be used by any text-capable cellphone and does not require a smartphone.
  • Text messaging apps that only support texting with other app users or texting via social media will not work with the service, only standard SMS texts.​
  • Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.
  • A text or data plan is required to place a text to 911. Costs may be incurred depending on an individual’s contract with their provider.
  • Text-to-911 is not available if you are roaming.
  • If texting to 911 is not available or is temporarily unavailable, you will receive a bounce-back message indicating that texting 911 is not available and to place a voice call to 911.
  • Photos and videos cannot be sent to 911 at this time.
  • Texts to 911 cannot include more than one person – do not send your emergency text to anyone other than 911.
  • Remember, do NOT text and drive!

Calling 911

ECCS has additional tips for residents calling 911. When talking to emergency dispatchers, be ready to listen and follow directions. It will help dispatchers get you help quickly and efficiently.

  • Know Where You Are and Stay on the Line
    When you call 911, please stay on the line until your call is answered and to keep your place in the queue. When calling 911, one of the first things you’ll be asked to provide is the location of the emergency you’re reporting. Give specific location of the emergency. Provide landmarks such as cross streets and mileposts. Always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Know Your Cell Well
    Lock your keypad when you’re not using your phone, so 911 isn’t dialed by mistake. For the same reason, don’t put 911 on speed dial. Do not give old phones to children as toys. A wireless phone with no active service can still call 911. If you accidentally call 911, stay on the line and tell the call taker that you do not have an emergency.
  • Know How to Use 911 With the Phone You Own
    The type of phone you use affects your call to 911. Know the capabilities of the device you are using (landline, cellular, VoIP) when calling 911. Whenever practical, use a landline at your location to call 911.
  • Call 911 for Emergencies Only
    911 is the right number to call in an emergency when a prompt response is needed. Call 911 when you need to save a life, stop a crime or report a fire. If you need talk about a police, fire, or rescue matter but do not need them to hurry to you, call 757-385-5000 instead.​​​

For more information about text-to-911, visit For additional information about VB911 and tips on how to teach children about 911, visit

Contact Information

Emergency Communications and Citizen Services

Keep Reading

See All Posts