Texting 911 in an Emergency


We’ve all heard about how a text message might get through in an emergency when a regular phone call might not.
Certainly, everyone needs to add texting to their emergency skill set. (Add this to your to-do list if you haven’t already.)

Text to 911But what about trying to reach emergency services by texting to 911?

As of three days ago (May 15), people who use AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon can send text messages to 911, and their calls will be routed to their local police dispatchers — BUT ONLY if the county they are in supports the technology!

According to the website govtech.com, if you live in Vermont, Iowa and Maine, you will reach a dispatch center if you text to 911.

But where I live in California, there’s no such service.

It all depends on the individual counties and whether they decide to adopt text-to-911.

Want to know whether text-to-911 works in your area? Check at this website, which was updated as of 5-16-2014 when I wrote this: http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/text-to-911-deployments.pdf

If there’s no service where you live . . .

In places where the service has not yet been instituted, if you place a text-to-911, you’ll get what the industry calls a “bounce-back” message. It tells you to contact emergency services another way, like by making a voice call or using TTY or a telecommunications relay service (for people with disabilities).

(I’ve never really tried this so I can’t vouch for what the message actually says.)

Text-to-911 Limitations

Before you get excited about this emergency communications option, consider this:

  1. You might be able to make a 911 call while driving – but certainly not a text message!
  2. If the dispatch center wants more info – like the cross street, or details of the situation (cars involved, number of people injured, for example) – it would take a lot longer to text than to simply answer the question.
  3. A text certainly couldn’t convey the emotion of the situation – hysteria, shots being fired, angry voices, etc. This could be important information.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed rules that would require text providers to support text-to-911 by the end of this year (2014).

It remains to be seen if this goal can be met. Texting capability may require upgrades to local dispatch centers, phone companies, equipment vendors and manufacturers, and local police and fire departments. It is likely to require that additional dispatchers be hired.

So it all comes back to the individual counties. Stay tuned . . .

Question: Have you had any personal experience with texting to 911?  How did it go!?  Please let us know in the comments.  This is one of those situations where the rest of us are operating in the actual dark!

Your Emergency Plan Guide Team


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