If you’re anywhere in the United States, you’re probably aware dialing 9-1-1 connects you to local public safety answering points (PSAPs) that can deploy nearby emergency services. But in some places in the US, cell phone users can also contact emergency dispatchers via SMS text message.
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Where is 9-1-1 Emergency Texting Available?
It’s important to note that this function isn’t available everywhere. In most of America, texting 911 will result in a bounce-back message encouraging the sender to make a voice call instead, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s 911.gov site. In 2014, the four largest wireless carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—all agreed to support this service on their network, but at time of writing only 1,000 or so American public safety call centers have texting capability. Here is a list of locations where emergency texting is available.
In most situations, the FCC says voice calls are still the best way to convey the nature of the emergency to first responders. It is usually faster and easier to communicate exact locations or answer questions that dispatchers might have over the phone. Mobile phones can also provide some general location information in the event of an interrupted call.
When to Use 9-1-1 Emergency Texting
But if calling is difficult or impossible, emergency text messaging can provide a life-saving accessibility option. Individuals who are hard of hearing, for example, may find it easier to communicate through text, as might anyone experiencing a medical emergency that makes it difficult to speak (an increasing concern in the age of coronavirus). In sparsely populated areas, emergency call-takers are sometimes occupied by other duties. And victims of kidnapping, burglaries, or domestic violence might also opt for texting over calling to avoid endangering themselves.
How to Use 9-1-1 Emergency Texting
Where available, you can text emergency dispatch like any other mobile phone number, by entering the numbers 9-1-1 in the recipient line. Your first message should include the nature and location of the emergency. You should use simple, clear speech—no abbreviations, emoticons, or emojis. No group texts or images, either, as the service is SMS, not MMS. And just like 911 calls, you should not use emergency texting for a non-emergency situation.