Text 911: Why some communities don’t have access to service

Texting is one of the most popular forms of communication on mobile phone devices and yet, less than 15% of 911 centers around the country allow for “Text to 911.”

For the deaf, you could say it’s necessary in an emergency. For someone threatened, maybe in their own home, it could be their last hope for survival.

Cindy Barbera-Brelle was the first to offer it in Illinois at the Northwest Central Dispatch, which services 11 suburbs and nearly a half a million people.

Over the past year and a half, less than 200 text messages fielded here, but Barbera-Brelle says since T Mobile, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint were all on board, why not do it?

Yet the system is still far from perfect. Sending a text, while relatively instantaneous, only gives the dispatcher limited info: Your phone number and a general area you could be calling from, not a specific address.  There is no true emotion conveyed on a text like there can be over a live phone line and no background noise for the dispatcher to consider. There is also no sense of when the call between parties is really over.

Many believe that while the feature is still evolving it is still a risk worth taking.

So, do you have it available to you? There is one way to tell: Simply send a text on your phone to 911.  Make sure you are not using an app to do so. Type in a test message and give it a minute or less.  If you are in an area where they are not accepting text calls, you actually get a bounce back message saying so.

An important note, “9-1-1 to text” function does not work when your phone is roaming or on prepaid phones.

More info: https://www.fcc.gov/text-to-911

And for a list of communities where it is available: click here: http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/911/Text911PSAP/Text_911_MasterPSAPRegistry_082715.xlsx  (Excel document)


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