Got An Emergency? Major US phone carriers will provide 911 texting services.

By May 15th, 2014, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile have all agreed to support a nationwide “text-to-911” service for its consumers. Currently, texting this emergency number is not a viable option, only phone calls are accepted.  In 2010, a “next generation 9-1-1” initiative was started in an attempt to modernize emergency communication. Under the new set of plans, those in need of emergency assistance would be able to not just make phone calls to 911, but would also be able to use text, video, and phone messaging. Phone companies are going about developing this new infrastructure differently; for example, if someone sent a 911 text, one might receive an automatic “bounce back” text message if it was not successfully sent. The “next gen” commission has had difficulties getting all of the major phone companies to cooperate with each other to start this service. Even once it is formally introduced, it will take effort to ensure that it is a quality service that can provide good service for all Americans. The commission plans to monitor the phone companies in this respect in order to help out consumers.

To me, this seems like a logical step forward. Although in most situations, a phone call will suffice in an emergency, but emergencies are not “most situations”. Many people are familiar with texting, and this could be a helpful way for people to communicate. Also, certain disabled persons might have difficulty communicating over the phone, but if they could send a video or photo, this might help the authorities. We are communicating differently than we used to, so it makes sense that our emergency services should be updated.

Although no services had been released yet, the agreement signed between the phone carriers is a key first step to keeping Americans safer in emergency situations.


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4 Responses to Got An Emergency? Major US phone carriers will provide 911 texting services.

  1. mfrohman says:

    I think this is an interesting idea that could have positive or negative results. One beneficial aspect to being able to text message 911, rather than call, is if perhaps a person is in an emergency situation in which someone has intruded their home and they are hiding from them in a room in their house and do not want the intruder to hear them. In this case, a text message would be more ideal than a phone call in that the victim does not need to make any noise and put themselves in further danger.

    A negative consequence to this new idea is that text messaging is not as effective and efficient as making a phone call. During an emergency situation, there is usually a fair amount of information that needs to be portrayed between both the police and the person making the phone call. Text messaging will lead to an increase in time before a response has been made to the emergency situation. The person in the emergency situation would have to provide all their personal information as well as their current location and the actual problem. The police would then potentially have to respond to these text messages with questions or clarifications. Phone calls are always easier and more efficient.

  2. kmcmeek says:

    It seems odd to me that cellular companies are making this such so difficult! I think it would be a great idea to implement. Although I think making calls would be more effective, texting provides another method for communicating emergencies. I do not think sending picture messages would be very helpful though. I think that would only lead to confusion as they cannot relay much information (such as descriptions, etc) as a text or call could. There was actually an incident recently where a girl tweeted that someone was in her house and ended up faking her own abduction. Surely this was an odd event but shows the power of social media in regards to obtaining real time information, which may eventually extend into emergency situations as well.

  3. samargolis says:

    Won’t this allow the Dispatch Centers to be flooded with Yogurt Spam? I hope they get the kinks out of texting technology, because junk texts might cause problems with something as important as Dispatch Centers.

    As for funny business though, people do stupid stuff with 911 all the time and I don’t see how this will be much different.

  4. dkoleanb says:

    A few weeks ago I walked past a police car on North Campus, with a texting number for 911, and I was confused–I thought it was a joke (like seriously, are people so afraid of social interaction that they would rather text authorities than make a call?). After thinking about it for awhile, I realized that it might come in handy for some situations (ie: a concert and someone passes out from heat exhaustion (it’s impossible to complete a phone call during a concert because it’s so loud), if someone breaks into your house, abusive spouse, etc.). Also, less cellular service is needed to send a text message than complete a phone call.

    In addition, I think it might be helpful if the text message has pre-loaded fields to fill out (ie: name, address, situation).

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