AT&T is the latest wireless carrier in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to support texts to 911 in case of emergency. The action was approved by the US Federal Communications Commission, meaning that all four major mobile providers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, are in support of the emergency text movement.
Verizon began its text-to-911 program in May, and one of its supported counties has reportedly received 153 emergency texts since its adoption. As a response to the high volume of texts the FCC has requested that all 911 call centers install text-enabled technology by December 31. As of today, 100 call centers out of 6,000 have complied.
Trey Forgerty, Director of Government Affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, emphasizes that a call to 911 is generally preferable to a text, and that texts should only be sent in circumstances that make a call difficult or impossible. For example, if someone is in an emergency situation such as a kidnapping or home invasion, or if a victim suffers from speech or hearing impediments, then it is highly appropriate to use text messaging instead of a voice call.
When individuals place texts to 911 they should convey their location and issue without using texting slang that may be difficult for dispatchers to understand. If a person is not in a text-to-911 service area, a message will automatically be sent back instructing the person to call 911.
Text messaging services offer one more opportunity to provide safety measures for citizens in a diverse number of situations. For instance, in Hamilton County, Ohio, a suicidal young woman did not want to call 911 for fear of her mother overhearing the conversation from the next room. Instead, she texted her situation to 911 and the emergency dispatcher convinced her not to follow through with her intentions.
Text-to-911 services may especially appeal to younger people for whom texting is more comfortable and habitual than the more traditional voice calls.