Text To 911 Goes Live, With A Few Limitations

Here’s good news: people can now text 911
in an emergency instead of having to call. Definitely helpful, but there are still frustrating
limitations to the service. The four major wireless carriers — AT&T,
Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — have all gone live with support for national text-to-911
programs as of Thursday. The service is meant for instances when people
are hearing or speech impaired, if there is not enough signal to connect a phone call,
or when calling could be dangerous, such as in a domestic abuse or kidnapping situation.
(Via Wikimedia Commons / Jason Bain) “Being able to do the text instead of make
the phone call could be a way to reach out for help without escalating the violence of
the situation.” (Via KSHB) But just because the networks support the
service it doesn’t mean the call centers themselves can receive those text messages. As of now,
only select counties in 16 states are able to. (Via WSBT) Check the Federal Communications Commission
website to see if your county is equipped for emergency response to texts. If your call
center can’t receive texts, your phone will show a bounce-back message instructing you
to call instead. As Government Technology reports, the FCC
is urging more states and counties to accommodate the service, but it will be a long time before
the 6,000 call centers across the country can adapt. Emergency officials can receive basic geolocation
information from text messages, but its not quite enough. WISH spoke to the communication
director for Tipton County in Indiana, which has implemented the texting service. CHRIS BELL: “Once you ask for that help, our
next question is immediately going to be, ‘What is your location?’ Because we need to
know your location so we can get you help. That’s probably the most important part of
that text.” (Via WISH) It’s that kind of information stop-gap with
texting that has officials saying its still best to call if you can, TechCrunch reports.
Emergency dispatchers can often get important information just from listening to a phone
call. CNET interviewed a dispatch supervisor on the topic: ​KELLY MURCH: “We’ll get it to the officers
that are out there and say, ‘This person is a crying, screaming citizen. We’re not able
to get much because they’re under a lot of stress. We have a location, this is what’s
going on that we can hear in the background.'” What’s more, the text-to-911 service could
take much longer than dialing for a few reasons. For one thing, it takes longer to type and
send texts than speak across a phone line. (Via WRTV) And there’s another factor. 911 calls are
currently given priority in networks, and 911 texts will be treated as any other message,
meaning it could take much longer to reach the dispatch center.

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