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.