As I was browsing my news feed on Facebook one night, I came across a post from a friend of mine who made a statement about Text to 911 in his area. However, the local radio station had stated that all university campuses in his area were now Text to 911 capable. But the radio station went on to urge people NOT to use this service, rather dial 9-1-1 on their phones. This seemed contradictory to me, with this new service available, why would you not use it? So I decided to find out the facts of Text to 911.
What I learned is that Text to 911 is a slow going process and many counties and states around the country do not yet have the service. It seems to be more of a slow, trickle-down effect as many cities upgrade to E911 or “Enhanced 911” services in conjunction with wireless carrier system upgrades.
Here are the import facts you need to know to help clarify what Text to 911 is all about and how it can help you, when you’re in need of emergency services.
- Is text to 911 available in my area?
Text to 911 may or may not be available in your area. The best place to start is with your wireless carrier. Currently, the 4 major wireless carriers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, all provide text to 911 services (where available). Many, if not most, 911 comm centers across the country are in the process of undergoing significant upgrades that will allow them to coordinate with each of these wireless companies to offer text to 911 in their communities. You can also check with your local legislators to get more information on when texting may be available in your area. The FCC, which is the governing body over the text to 911 program and implementation has provided a list of specific areas where Text-to-911 is available.
- Is text to 911 now the best way to get help?
The best way to receive help is still to call 9-1-1. However, if you are deaf, hard of hearing, have a speech disability or are in a situation where it would be dangerous or impossible to call, text to 911 may be made available to you (if applicable in your area). I recently attended a customer board meeting where they read the first text to 911 in their area. It was an emotional and amazing moment to be witness to, as the 911 Director’s sister is deaf. This type of technology is a huge accomplishment for the deaf community and will help to eliminate the cumbersome TTY or “teletype” systems of decades past.
- What happens if I send a text to 911 and it is not available in my area?
According to the FCC’s website, as of September 30, 2013, if you attempt to send a text to 911 where it is not yet available, you will receive a “bounce back” message, instructing that the service is not yet available in your area and to call 9-1-1 immediately!
- How do I know if my text to 911 was received?
Xybix's customer, Mobile County Communications District, was the first district in the State of Alabama to have text to 911 available. Heidi Robinson, Radio Communications Officer, offered some insight into how texts are received by dispatch:
"Our dispatcher receives a complaint screen from 911, who communicate via computer with the caller. The 911 operator places remarks on the screen, advising dispatch that it is a text call and keeps the system updated with any further information they receive from the caller."
The thing to remember about text to 911 is that while it is another step in the evolution of communication, the best way to reach 911 is to always call wherever possible. Please be safe, responsible and always do what’s best for your situation or circumstance.