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About one-third of adult Americans prefer sending text messages to making phone calls.
This is especially true for younger adults, and one of the main reasons for this preference is the privacy that comes along with it. It's impossible for someone to "overhear" a texting conversation.
But what about 911? In many cases, contacting 911 is something you definitely don't want other people to hear (especially if you're in a dangerous situation). And if your safety is already being threatened, making a phone call can be impossible.
So can you text 911?
Keep reading to learn when, how, and why you should send a text message to a 911 call center.
The FCC is working on making text to 911 available to everyone, no matter where they live.
But currently, there are only a few limited locations throughout the United States where you are able to send a text message to 911. And not every cell phone provider offers this service yet.
Not only do you have to be in the right location to send a text to 911, your provider must be one of these four: Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and AT&T.
Texting 911 is a new capability. Because it's so new, it's not available everywhere in the country yet.
However, the FCC is working to change that. Sending text messages to 911 will most likely become a more widely available feature as 911 centers continue to modernize their systems.
When they do this, they'll be able to accept more text messages and request this service from more cell phone providers. Any service provider must deploy the service of texting 911 within six months if a 911 call center requests it.
If you aren't sure whether or not you're able to send text messages to 911, you can reach out to your wireless phone company and ask them if you have access to that service.
You can also get in touch with your state legislators or public safety officials. They'll be able to tell you if your local 911 center is capable of receiving text messages.
A third option is calling public information lines (for example, the numbers 311 or 211). These information lines may tell you more about the availability of sending text messages to 911 in your area.
Texting 911 is similar to sending any other normal text. You can either send an SMS (short message) or other kinds of messages to a 911 operator on your wireless phone.
When you send a text to a 911 operator, it's important to include your exact location. Unlike with phone calls, the operator won't be able to triangulate your location through a text message.
So if you're in a location where you can send 911 a text message, don't forget to send the location!
Sometimes calling 911 on the phone is dangerous or even impossible. In these emergency situations, texting 911 can be incredibly helpful. If you are unable to make a phone call, you can still get in touch with 911, perhaps without anyone else knowing about it.
Texting 911 can also make a huge difference for people who are hard of hearing, are deaf, or have a speech impediment. Instead of struggling to communicate with a 911 operator, they can simply write a message and send it.
This can be quicker and easier than using alternative methods, such as a TTY or telecommunications relay service.
Even if you live in an area that has text to 911 available, you should still contact 911 with a voice call.
Of course, there may be times where it is unsafe to do so, but if you can, you should avoid texting 911. Calling 911 is more effective because it allows the operator to ask questions and get information about your situation quickly.
Getting this information through text messages could take more time, and there can be limits on how long you can make the text message. Calling 911 will also give them your approximate location. This can be helpful if people aren't sure where they are during an emergency situation.
If you try to send a text message to 911 while in a location that doesn't support this service, you'll receive a "bounce-back" message.
The FCC requires every wireless carrier (and even other text messaging providers) to send this automatic message. It will inform you that your message didn't go through and advise you to reach out to 911 through another method, either a voice call or some kind of telecommunications relay service for people who are unable to make voice calls.
These "bounce-back" services are designed to manage the risk of someone believing they've contacted 911 when, in reality, 911 didn't get their message.
So, can you text 911?
Though this service is only available in select locations with select providers, this feature will hopefully become accessible to more and more people in the near future.
As it stands now, you should always contact 911 with a voice call when you can. If you're in a location that supports text to 911 and it is too dangerous to call 911 directly, you should send a text message. Though voice calls are the preferred method of communication because of their efficiency, you can text 911 in specific situations.
Just remember, if you have to send 911 a text message, include your location. The 911 operator won't be able to get your approximate location from a text message.
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