You may have seen reports about a recent action taken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding "text-to-911" and wondered if it is possible in an emergency to reach 911 by text message.
Text-to-911 – the ability to send a text message to 911 from your mobile phone or handheld device – is generally not available today. It will become increasingly available during 2013, however.
Three Facts You Need to Know Now
- In an emergency, always make a voice call to 911 if possible.
- In most cases, you cannot today reach 911 by sending a text message.
- In the future, you may be able to send text messages to 911 – but you should still make a voice call if you can.
For some consumers, text-to-911 will be invaluable when it becomes available. It can be a life-saving option for those who are unable to make a voice call due to a hearing or speech disability, or because a voice call to 911 would place them in danger. In addition, a text message may be the most reliable means of communication during major disasters, where voice calls cannot be completed due to network capacity constraints.
Text-to-911 will also help first responders keep pace with how consumers communicate today. This capability will only apply to text messages (for example, short message service, or SMS), however, and will not include e-mails or instant messages. In addition, the FCC’s action does not prevent people who have hearing or speech disabilities from continuing to use a TTY (also known as a text telephone or TDD) or relay to call 911.
1. In an emergency, always make a voice call to 911 if possible. An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police, fire department, or an ambulance.
If you have a hearing or speech disability and are unable to make a voice call: continue to use either a telecommunications relay service (including a video relay service) or your TTY to call 911 for now. For more information on how to contact 911, visit: www.fcc.gov/guides/emergency-communications 
2. In most cases, you cannot yet reach 911 by sending a text message. Today’s 911 system is not designed to support emergency text messages, except in a few areas where limited text-to-911 trials are underway.
Some wireless carriers have announced plans to support text-to-911 starting in 2013, and some 911 centers may begin to accept text messages in addition to voice calls. But the availability of text-to-911 will depend on your location and other factors, so you should check with your carrier on whether text-to-911 is available in your area. In an emergency, you should not attempt to communicate with 911 by text if you have not confirmed that the capability is available in your area.
3. In the future, you may be able to send text messages to 911 – but you should still make a voice call if possible. By making a voice call to 911, you will be able to answer the call-taker’s questions immediately – which is important for getting help quickly. In addition, calls to 911 may automatically transmit to the call-taker more precise information about your location than a text message. But when a voice call is not possible, text-to-911 can be a life-saving alternative.
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