People in parts of the northwest suburbs can now use text messaging on their cellphones to seek help in an emergency.

The Northwest Central Dispatch System announced the Text-to-911 service in August. It has been testing the program since December, according to local officials and the Federal Communications Commission.

“If you can’t call, then this service is available so that when you are in an emergency situation, text is available to get you the help you need,” said Cindy Barbera-Brelle, executive director of Northwest Central Dispatch.

Those with cellphones serviced through AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon and who are within the boundaries of Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg and Streamwood can send a text message to 911 and get a response from Northwest Central dispatchers.

Any text messages that do not meet the standards will get a text back indicating it did not go through to 911, officials said.

Dispatch system officials said the text message program offers an alternative for people with hearing or speaking disabilities as well as those who might feel compromised by making a call, such as in domestic or burglary situations.

It is not preferred over, nor is it expected to replace, the standard 911 call. Texting is not in “real time” and therefore, will cause more delays. “We do ask, ‘can you call?’” Barbera-Brelle said.

Since April, the texting program has received 11 messages, only two of which were fully dispatched through Northwest Central. A Schaumburg resident texted for help after hearing noises in the vacant apartment above her on July 18 and an Arlington Heights man reported a vagrant in a park on July 27, according to officials.

Three other messages were for incidents in other locations, including a request for an ambulance in Bensenville, a report of an intoxicated person in Hanover Park and a domestic situation in unincorporated Cook County. In each case, Northwest Central turned it over to the appropriate authorities, as is the protocol.

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