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Dialing in Waco, 254 area code to get more complicated with 988 mental health hotline in works

Dialing in Waco, 254 area code to get more complicated with 988 mental health hotline in works

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Dialing a telephone number will get more complicated soon in seven Texas area codes, including 254 in Central Texas. The change is part of the process for making it simpler to get emergency help from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which will get the nationwide three-digit dialing code 988 next year.

Texans should get used to dialing the area code and seven-digit phone number even to make local calls, according to the Public Utility Commission, which attributes the change to new federal guidelines.

The Federal Communications Commission issued an order last summer approving 988 as the three-digit abbreviated dialing code for the suicide prevention line, and President Donald Trump signed a bipartisan bill into law in October pushing the process forward. The order requires all telecommunications providers to make network changes by July next year, when 988 is set to go live, to ensure access to the code.

The three-digit nationwide code is intended to provide easier access to emergency mental health services than the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 10-digit number, 800-273-8255.

Several Texas area codes have numbers with a 988 prefix, so to eliminate the possibility of signals being crossed, telephone use in these areas must include area codes, according to the Public Utility Commission.

Texas is not alone in making these adjustments. States nationwide are obliged to require 10-digit dialing in some area codes.

Besides 254, other area codes in Texas that must transition to 10-digit local calls include 361, 409, 806, 830, 915 and 940, according to a commission press release.

For the next six months, calls made with only seven digits will continue to connect, but starting Oct. 24, Callers dialing using only seven digits will hear a recording telling them to hang up and dial again using the applicable area code.

“Telephone numbers, including current area code, will not change,” according to the press release. “The price of a call, coverage area, or other rates and services will not change due to the dialing change. What is a local call now will remain a local call regardless of the number of digits dialed.”

Residents in the affected area codes should check safety and security equipment, including medical alert devices and alarms, to ensure they are programmed with 10-digit dialing. Fax machines, internet dial-up numbers, speed dialers, voicemail services, mobile or other wireless phone contact lists, and call-forwarding settings also may need to be reprogrammed, the press release states.

City of Waco spokesperson Dori Helm said the transition should prove painless at City Hall. Employees in one department will continue dialing only four digits to talk with other city employees.

But she knows local residents will need to dial 10 digits to reach city departments, for example, to call about water bills or trash collections.

“We’ll try to get the word out through our website, through social media and through the city newsletter,” Helm said.

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