Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from your mobile phone or device. (However, because text-to-911 is currently only available in certain locations, you should always make a voice call to contact 911 during an emergency whenever possible.) The appeal of the technology is the ability to instantly text photos to emergency relief providers. In cases of immediate danger or the need for talk-through medical instructions (e.g., positioning someone with a neck or head injury, stenching blood loss or imminent birth) photos/videos can be life-saving.
The FCC encourages emergency call centers to begin accepting texts as text providers develop text-to-911 capability, but it is up to each call center to decide the particular method in which to implement and deploy text-to-911 technology.
FCC rules require all wireless carriers and other providers of text messaging applications in the United States to deliver emergency texts to call centers that request them. If a call center requests text-to-911 service, text messaging providers must deliver the service in that area within six months.
To check to see if the 911 call center in your area supports text-to-911, download the FCC list of areas supporting available service (updated monthly). But even in areas where call centers accept text-to-911, existing voice-based 911 service is still the most reliable and preferred method of contact.
How to contact 911
If you use a wireless phone or other type of mobile device, make sure to do the following in an emergency:
- Always contact 911 by making a voice call, if you can.
- If you are deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled, and text-to-911 is not available, use a TTY or a telecommunications relay service, if possible.
- Remember that in many cases you cannot reach 911 by sending a text message.
If you attempt to send a text to 911 where the service is not yet available, FCC rules require all wireless carriers and other text messaging providers to send an automatic “bounce-back” message that will advise you to contact emergency services by another method, such as making a voice call or using telecommunications relay service (for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability). Bounce-back messages are intended to minimize your risk of mistakenly believing that a text to 911 has been transmitted to an emergency call center.
Which service providers are not required to support text-to-911?
- The FCC’s text-to-911 rules do not apply to text messaging applications that do not support texting to and from U.S. phone numbers.
- Text messaging apps that only support texting with other app users or texting via social media are not required to support text-to-911.
Bottom line: In an emergency: Call if you can, text if you can’t.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.