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.