Starting This Month, You’ll be able to Text Your Emergency to 911; Here’s How it Works

911 tls 28Beginning May 15, wireless carriers in the US will uniformly and voluntarily support Text-to-911, a program that lets you send text messages to emergency services as an alternative to placing a phone call.

While carriers will climb on board, this just means they’re making the service available — the ability to text the police in an emergency situation won’t work everywhere in the country the second May 15 rolls around. On the flipside, some counties have already embraced the program, usually working with a single carrier. Here are some important things to know about texting 911.

What is Text-to-911 and how does it work? Text-to-911 is a free program for sending a text message addressed to “911” instead of placing a phone call. To use it, you address the message to 911 and enter the emergency in the body of the text, making sure that you also add your exact location — or else emergency services won’t be able to dispatch help your way.

Since it’s all SMS-based, you will hear a response for more follow-up questions, or when help is on the way.

Who is Text-to-911 for? Text-to-911 is useful for any situation in which it is dangerous or impossible to speak. Texting is also a useful way to help the younger demographic that feels more comfortable texting than calling.

Kent Hellebust, a vice president at TCS, a company that sells texting management software to emergency call centers, told CNET of an incident in which a ten-year-old girl was able to successfully get help by texting 911 — apparently composing a text felt more automatic and natural than dialing in.

Which carriers support it? By May 15, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint will support texting 911. Other carriers could also join in the future.

Will it work where I live? Although the carriers have committed to supporting 911 texting in their service areas, that doesn’t mean that text-to-911 will be available everywhere. Emergency call centers, called PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points), are the bodies in charge of implementing text messaging in their areas. These PSAPs are under the jurisdiction of their local states and counties, not the FCC, which governs the carriers.

In other words, it’s up to the call centers to receive and dispatch your texts. Until the PSAP in your county first requests Text-to-911 support, implements the technology, and trains its staff, you won’t be able to use texting in an emergency. However, some individual emergency services centers are ahead of the curve and already work with carriers to accept emergency texts. Read more on CNET.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Seriously? No wonder why our economy and education is in the dumps. People can’t pick up a phone and have actual human interaction outside of a computer screen? Social media and texting are the farthest thing from “social.” This issue will continue to be the downfall of everything. People need to stop accommodating ignorance. People need to embrace human contact and interaction. People care so much what others are doing, yet don’t want the opportunity to share the actual experience. This world is doomed.

  2. Forget the “younger demographic” garbage.
    Think a choking victim, a person hiding in a closet from burglars…etc. At times like that, a text message can have a very real advantage over a phone call…..

  3. Hey Arnold (#1), imagine this scenario: you’re in your bathroom at 3 in the morning when you suddenly hear strange footsteps in your hallway. You want to call the police, but you don’t want to talk and give up your position. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just shoot out a quick text? But no, you’re too busy chastising us about how dumb the rest of the world is to actually think about the useful tools technology has to offer us. Sad.

  4. Is a great idea, because Sometimes is not really safe call when someone is in the middle of a hard situation and just a simple call could be dangerous. This real good.

  5. I’m also grateful for this news because of the situations mentioned above; I wake up from nightmares such as those thinking I wish I could text 911.

    And I am grateful to TLS for printing it; I only wish we knew if it’s actually nogeia for us – if Ocean County will participate

  6. In the full article

    “Does Text-to-911 replace regular 911 calls?
    No; in fact, the FCC stresses that texting to 911 should be thought of only as a —>LAST RESORTCANNOT SPEAK<—. The FCC advises that people who are hard of hearing, deaf, or speech-impaired should still encouraged to use TTY for calling when they can."

    In other words DO NOT text 911 for the loose dog or even the motor vehicle accident because that is not what 911 texting is intended for, it is for people who genuinely feel they will be harmed if they speak to 911.

  7. to # 10.. what do u do without email?? u just gotta learn how to manage if u still want to live in th eoldfashioned world.

  8. I agree it can have it’s advantages in certain scenarios. I wasn’t putting down the idea of it, but the reasoning they spewed behind it. Hiding behind computer and electronic screens IS a rising issue with the younger generation and to say this is for them to stay in their comfort zone is a little ridiculous. If you are kidnapped or hiding in danger than yes, this is useful.

  9. And besides, you can call 911 and not say anything and they will still respond so give me a break. You can make 8 phone calls to 911 in the same amount of time it will take you to text.

Comments are closed.