No.

Oh, sorry – you wanted a longer post? Here goes….
I was recently asked ‘can you eMail 911’? My first reaction was to explain that the 911 call system is for emergencies like, for example, doing CPR on a child. Perhaps stopping to compose an eMail wasn’t entirely practical at the point you need to get help.

 Then I started to wonder, ‘What if….?’

What if…. you’re the first aid attendant in the workplace, you work with computers and have your eMail open at all times. The person next to you has a heart-attack. Perhaps if you were very efficient and included all the relevant information you might be able to send an eMail.
What if…. you’re at home, on Facebook, Twitter (following @sea2sky_safety of course), or eMailing friends and you hear a crash. Your spouse goes to investigate and finds your child has fallen and injured themselves (and needs an ambulance). Could you send an eMail?
Call 911
Still the trainer in me says ‘No, you have to call for help,’ but what if…. What if I’m out of touch? I had to ask the people who know. (And I’m glad to say I was right.)
Disclaimer type thing…
Note that the information below comes from the helpful people at eComm. They provide the 911 coverage for Sea 2 Sky (including Sunshine Coast) & Metro Vancouver. Outside of this, the answer could theoretically vary – although I doubt it.

“Emailing 911 is not an option for contacting emergency services for a variety of technical and operational reasons. For example, data networks don’t have the built-in reliability of the 911 voice network, and operationally, we need to gather personal information with real-time interaction amongst other things.” – eComm Director of Communications (Personal eMail, June 2011)

What does that mean?

Well – have you ever sent an eMail and have it eventually bounce back? I know I have. Usually several days later, after the computers have been trying to communicate for a while, you get a message that says something like “So Sorry it didn’t work out. Here’s a copy of the original eMail you sent.
What if… that happened for a 911 eMail? You send the message and wait. You probably wait a while longer. You send another message. After 10 minutes (while your kid still isn’t breathing) you give up and find the phone. You still have to call 911. The day after your child gets out of hospital, you get the bounced message in your in-box. Not good.
Or what if…. in a hurry, you eMail to ‘922’ in error (in whatever imaginary eMail address we’re using)? On the phone, you’d know about that pretty quickly. Not necessarily true on eMail. Could be you send the message again – and in re-sending it, you make the same error. Eventually, you have to pick up the phone. Still not good.
Or what if…. There is an eMail address of some sort, and you get through, and you manage to send them all the information they need, but in a typo you send them to “30021 Your St” instead of “40021”? Somewhere, there’s an ambulance crew knocking on a door and someone’s granny saying “eMail dear? What’s that?” What, you hope the ambulance crew will send you a quick eMail to check? And you’ll be sat watching for just such an eMail, instead of doing the First Aid I taught you? Really, still not good!
And what if…. OK, you get the idea.

Spam?

Remember that if you call 911 from a land line, the address of the property is displayed to the 911 dispatcher. It confirms what you tell them. This wouldn’t work on eMail. They get enough hoax calls without getting spamed too. (And yes, this does become an issue if you try to Skype or otherwise VoIP your 911/EMS system.)

So what if you can’t actually call 911?

Well, E-Comm can accept 9-1-1 calls from the hearing impaired through TTY (telephone typewriter) units. There’s more information right here.
Finally, remember it’s called the Emergency system for a reason – no non-emergency calls please. Dispatch does not want to do your math homework.

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