In an emergency situation, calling 911 is most people’s first instinct. But what if you couldn’t talk during an emergency?
Today the Federal Communications Commission launched the Text-to-911 program, allowing certain counties in 16 states to accept text messages as an alternative to placing a voice call when reporting an emergency.
The FCC urges those contacting 911 to always call, if possible. But if you’re deaf, have a speech impediment, or otherwise can’t speak during your emergency, texting 911 can provide the dispatcher with information you probably can’t. AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile are all participating in the program, which is expected to be functioning nation-wide by the end of the year.
There are a few problems with the Text-to-911 program. Texts to 911 are treated the same as all other text messages so delays are possible. Authorities are also urging users to include a location in their message, since cell phone location services are only approximate.
While all cellphones can make emergency calls, not all can text 911. You must have a texting plan for the message to get to a dispatcher. So if you’re worried about your kid making phony 911 texts you could always cancel their plan.
“Bounce-Back Messages” will notify 911 texters if help is on the way, ensuring that absence of a texting plan or technical difficulties do not prevent help from coming while the texter thinks otherwise. These messages will also be sent to 911 texters in areas that are not included in the program yet.
“In the future, text-to-911 will be widely available in the United States. However, for now, the ability to contact 911 using text is only available on a limited basis in a few markets. For this reason, you should not rely on text to reach 911,” said the FCC on their website.
It’s not open for business in Massachusetts yet, but the program is available to millions in sixteen other states. Find out what counties can text 911 here.Shannon McMahon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter @shanmcmahon_.