The four largest wireless carriers in the U.S. have agreed to allow customers nationwide to send text messages to 911, according to a statement by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. But don’t send that sad face emoticon to indicate your distress just yet; AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile won’t fully deploy the service until the May 15, 2014 deadline. In the meantime, customers who attempt to text 911 will receive an automatic bounce back message informing them that their text message did not go through because services are not yet available in their area.
While voice calls remain the most efficient way of contacting emergency services, texting does have a use here beyond confusing responders with incomprehensible slang. If the caller has a hearing or speech disability, or if the situation is one where the victim cannot talk without putting themselves in danger, the service offers a potentially lifesaving alternative. Text messages have also proven to be useful following disasters where signal strength is too low for a call to get through.
The FCC is committed to further expanding 911 contact services to current technology. At a meeting next week, the agency will discuss how to make the text service available to customers who don’t use one of the big four carriers, including those who use internet message services. They are also pushing for customers to have the ability to transmit photos and videos to 911 response centers. So soon you may be able to record a video of a fire on your phone and send it directly to 911 to alert the fire department, right after you’re done sharing it on Facebook of course.