“OMW over stay calm”: Texting 911

In some parts of the country you can now text 911. The service is currently scattered, and FCC recommends to always call 911 whenever possible.
In some parts of the country you can now text 911. The service is currently scattered, and FCC recommends to always call 911 whenever possible.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and major US wireless carriers are giving Americans a new way to reach a 911 dispatcher in an emergency. The FCC program which debuted on Thursday, May 15, in various parts of the country, is scheduled to be made widely available by the end of 2014. Here’s what you need to know:

What is it?

The Text-to-911 program is exactly what it sounds like: it enables you to text a 911 dispatcher in the event of an emergency rather than place a phone call.

Why would I use it?

Short answer is that you shouldn’t. FCC strongly encourages that if at all possible to make a phone call. A call is much more efficient and leaves less room for confusion, particularly in an emergency situation where critical information must be relayed in a short time. The program is designed mainly to assist the deaf, hard-of-hearing or those with speech impediments to communicate with 911 services. It also could prove life-saving when the person contacting 911 isn’t in a position to speak. Such as situations where making a noise would expose the person to greater danger, like hiding from a home-invader.

How do I use it?

All four major US carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — support the service. The issue revolves around whether the local 911 dispatch supports the service. As of now, your phone plan must cover texting as well; all phones can make emergency calls regardless, but this is not the case with texting. Another problem is that triangulating location is much more difficult with a text rather than a phone call, so users will have to include that information in their message.

How do I know if my local dispatcher supports the service?

Although there is widespread carrier support, relatively few dispatches have Text-to-911 capability. FCC has a full list of counties currently across 12 states. Durham County, NC, as of now, supports the service with Verizon and AT&T customers. States such as Vermont have also experimented with their own versions of text-to-911.

How do I know if 911 received my message?

The FCC system is set up to send a bounce-back message to let users know if their message didn’t go through and suggesting that you call 911. If your dispatcher does not support the service you should receive one of these.

Text-to-911 is a very interesting topic that may prove critical in a tough situation, however, in 99% of situations, it is in your best interest to actually call 911.


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