SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A new service in San Francisco will allow people in dangerous situations to text 911 instead of calling, city officials announced Friday.

Although people are still encouraged to call 911 in emergency situations, the new option is intended for people who are not in a safe place to call for help; people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disability; or those who can’t speak to a 911 operator because of a medical emergency.

According to Mayor London Breed, the service is especially needed for survivors of domestic violence who may be living with their abuser, as the city remains sheltered in place due to the novel coronavirus.

Since the shelter order took effect, the city has reported a greater percentage of emergency calls related to domestic violence. Since March 16, 2020 the city has seen a drop in overall 911 calls by 24 percent while calls related to domestic violence remained similar to numbers from March 17, 2019 to April 8, 2019, the mayor’s office said.

Additionally, advocacy organizations for survivors of domestic violence have reported an increase in calls for service and shelter.

“Text to 9-1-1 is a great feature for our City’s emergency response to better serve all of our residents, but it has become even more significant during the coronavirus pandemic,” Breed said in a statement.

“With people staying at home, it is a particularly difficult and dangerous time for people experiencing domestic violence. We’ve secured apartments for victims of domestic violence during this stay at home order, and now with text to 9-1-1 we’re making it easier for victims to contact the police safely as well,” she said.

On Thursday, Breed announced the city, along with landlord Veritas Investments, acquired 20 furnished apartments for survivors of domestic violence who qualify. The city is looking to secure more units, she said.

Mary Ellen Carrol, the city’s Department of Emergency Management’s executive director, said, “If you can call 9-1-1, that is what you should do, but sometimes it is not safe to verbally call. This is when being able to text to 9-1-1 can become the vital link between someone in distress and the help they need. We believe this true now during this global pandemic, and beyond this public health crisis.”

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