Text to 9-1-1

What is Text to 9-1-1?

It refers to the ability to send a short message service (SMS) text to local 9-1-1 call centers during an emergency.

Why is Text to 9-1-1 needed now?

Simply put, text messaging is one of the primary ways people communicate today, especially younger generations and members of the hearing and speech disabilities community. According to Forrester Research, an estimated six billion messages are sent every day in the United States. The 9-1-1 community is constantly striving to meet the evolving needs of the public.

What are the benefits of Text to 9-1-1?

There are many significant benefits, especially if you cannot communicate verbally. For example, Text to 9-1-1 is very useful to the approximately 34 million Americans who are hard of hearing, deaf, or speech-impaired. Text to 9-1-1 could also help in situations when a crime is in progress, a caller is facing domestic abuse or is injured and cannot speak, and in many other similar situations.

How does it work?

Wireless carriers provide Text to 9-1-1 services in the format requested by local 9-1-1 call centers, for example through TTY, Internet Protocol (IP), or other technologies. Carriers provide the service based on the call centers’ requests.

Should I call or text 9-1-1?

If you can call, do it. Only text if you cannot call.

How do I text 9-1-1 in an emergency?

  • Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” field. The first text message to 9-1-1 should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help needed.
  • Push the “Send” button. Be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call taker.
  • Text in simple words; do not use abbreviations.
  • Keep text messages brief and concise.

Additional things to be aware of:

  • Always call 9-1-1 if you can. Text location information is not equal to current location technology. As with all text messages, 9-1-1 messages can take longer to receive, can get out of order, or may not be received.
  • Text to 9-1-1 is not available if you are roaming.
  • A text or data plan is required to place a Text to 9-1-1.
  • If texting to 9-1-1 is temporarily unavailable, you will receive a message indicating that texting 9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by other means.
  • Texts sent to 9-1-1 have the same 160 character limit as other text messages.
  • Photos and videos cannot be sent to 9-1-1 at this time.
  • Text to 9-1-1 cannot include more than one person. Do not send your emergency text to anyone other than 9-1-1.
  • Do not text and drive.

Do emergency texts receive priority?

Cell providers treat messages to 9-1-1 like any other text message, so your texts will be subject to the same service speeds and/or delays, depending on network strength in your area.

Will 9-1-1 know my location when texting 9-1-1?

We will receive the cell tower location, provider, and phone number in this process. Providers will only be providing limited information. As they expand these capabilities, we anticipate this information to become more detailed. As with all emergency interactions, we will verify the location of a text within the first few seconds of contact.

As part of the deaf and hard of hearing community, do I need to do anything different to now text 9-1-1?

No, all you need is a text-capable phone with a data plan.

Will 9-1-1 be able to translate text in Spanish or another foreign language?

No. Non-English speaking residents will be directed to call 9-1-1. If in the event they cannot, we will contact our translation provider to assist.

Will I be able to send pictures to 9-1-1 of an accident or suspicious activity during an emergency text? If not when will I be able to?

No. The “Big 4” providers (see "When will Text to 9-1-1 be more widely available?" below) only support standard alphanumeric text messages with no multimedia attachments like audio, pictures or video. At some point in the next few years, providers will allow for multimedia. Initially, however, they are only providing the basic messaging. Once this is developed and the infrastructure is in place, we will move to this technology.

Will the text conversation drop as I move between cell tower locations?

No, you are connected to the 9-1-1 center until we release the conversation. Depending on the cellular provider, delays with text messages could be experienced.

I use a pre-paid wireless service. Will I be able to text 9-1-1?

Some pre-paid services may work via the “Big 4” providers (see below). Consult with your pre-paid phone vendor to determine if you are able to Text to 9-1-1 as it may depend on your service package.  

When will Text to 9-1-1 be more widely available?

Under an historic agreement reached in December 2012 between National Emergency Number Association, the "Big 4” wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon), and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, Text to 9-1-1 capabilities were in place on those four carriers’ networks in May 2014. However, this does not mean that Text to 9-1-1 service was available to all consumers at that time. The actual availability hinges on the deployment of new systems and training at more than 6,000 9-1-1 centers across the country.

Note: Until Text to 9-1-1 service is implemented in a given area, texters in those areas will receive an automatic “bounce back” message indicating that the service is not yet available and advising them to use another method to contact emergency authorities.

Even when Text to 9-1-1 becomes widely available, the best way to contact 9-1-1 will continue to be via voice communications whenever possible.  

What are the major challenges to making Text to 9-1-1 work nationwide?

As noted above, the widespread availability of Text to 9-1-1 will depend not only on telecommunications carriers but also on the ability of more than 6,000 9-1-1 centers to implement new systems and training. A key challenge facing 9-1-1 call centers is selecting the Text to 9-1-1 platform that works best in their individual centers, out of more than a dozen solutions available today. Emergency call centers and authorities need to conduct extensive research and testing to select the option that best fits their needs.