Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

TEXT 911 Emergency ‘Calls’ Still Only in Some Places

Unedited image credit.
Suppose you cannot make a voice phone call in an emergency.

Should the inability to make a voice call prevent you from calling 911?

If you read some headlines today, you might think that you can Text 911 from anywhere. Well, get ready to be disappointed. In most places, you still cannot Text 911, but today we are one step closer to eliminating this problem. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has been making progress on 911 Text requirements.

In an agreement with NENA and APCO, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon have voluntarily committed to provide text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014 in all areas served by their networks where a 911 call center is prepared to receive texts.[1]


Check the online pdf list to see if you are in a place where the 911 center is capable of receiving Text 911.[2]

If it is not available in your area, it is suggested that Text 911 will be available by the end of 2014, but this is misleading.

All of the phone companies should be able to send text messages to 911 call centers by the end of 2014.

So what? What does it really take for a phone company that offers text messaging to add 911 call centers to the possible recipients?

The real hold up in this is the 911 call centers.

Some 911 call centers need to make big changes to be able to receive text messages.

Look at the short list of places where Text 911 is available. The locations are according to the call center, not according to the phone company. This will require the addition of equipment to the call centers, integration with the existing equipment, and training of the people working there.

How will you know if your Text 911 was communicated to the 911 call center?

beginning September 30, 2013, all wireless telephone companies and certain other text messaging providers are required by the FCC to send an automatic “bounce-back” message to any consumer who tries to send a text message to 911 where this service is not yet available.[1]

Bold text is from the original.

Text 911 should be able to identify your location, since location identification is one of the requirements for newer cell phones for 911 calls.[3]

IMPORTANT! If you use a wireless phone or other type of mobile device, make sure to do the following in an emergency:

  • Always contact 911 by making a voice call, if you can.
  • If you are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, use a TTY or a telecommunications relay service, if possible.
  • Remember – in most cases now, you cannot reach 911 by sending a text message.[1]

Bold text is from the original.

I talked with someone at my local 911 call center and they have had the capability to receive Text 911 communication since last year, but only from one cell phone company so far. There is a large deaf community, so it is important, even if they do not receive many texts.

As people become more aware of the possibility, they should use text messages to communicate with the 911 call center, but they should still try to place a voice call, so that information can be exchanged more quickly.

What about pictures?

A picture could provide very important information. A picture of a suspect could improve the response to an active shooting incident. A picture could also be used to try to confuse the police, just as 911 voice calls could. A picture of a major incident could help to determine the best direction for apparatus to approach the scene, such as if sent by someone on the interstate highway, who is not familiar with the area.

Picture 911 does not appear to be something the phone companies are going to provide, but that may change. I probably could have written the same thing about Text 911 five years ago.


[1] What You Need to Know About Text-to-911
Federal Communications Commission

[2] Text-to-911 Deployments as of May 9, 2014
Federal Communications Commission
Full Text Document in PDF Download format.

[2] 911 Wireless Services
Federal Communications Commission



  1. I am struck by a certain oddness that much of the reporting describes this as a great service for people that are deaf or hard of hearing. I don’t think deafness is a problem when calling 9-1-1 and describing an emergency. An inability to speak is the actual problem texting partially solves. I suppose being able to hear and then respond to the questions the 911 dispatcher is asking is helpful, but not necessary for reporting an emergency.

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