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Text-to-911 program launched for emergencies

Thursday - 5/15/2014, 9:57am  ET

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In an emergency, texting to 911 can be a helpful option. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON -- Reaching 911 will get a little easier with the implementation of the text-to-911 program.

On Thursday, the Federal Communication Commission introduced the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from a cellphone.

The service isn't available around the country just yet.

For now, the ability to contact 911 using text is only available on a limited basis in a few markets, including Frederick County in Maryland and Henry, James City Southampton and York counties in Virginia.

The providers supporting the service include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.

"Texting during an emergency could be helpful if you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability, or if a voice call to 911 might otherwise be dangerous or impossible," the FCC says in a statement. "But if you are able to make a voice call to 911, and if it is safe to do so, you should always make a voice call to 911."

The FCC offers the following information about the service.

  • Tell operators your location when texting 911. The call centers will not be able to triangulate your location the way they can with phone calls.

  • Ask your wireless phone company if text-to-911 is available in your area. Also, ask your state legislators or public safety officials if your local 911 center is prepared to accept text-to-911 messages.

  • Public information lines, such as 211 or 311, also may have more information on text-to-911 service availability in your area.

  • You may also need a "wireless data plan" for the service.

  • Wireless telephone companies are required by the FCC to send a bounce-back message if you try to send a 911 text message where service is not yet available.

h/t: Lifehacker.

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