It was announced this week by the FCC that the four major cell phone service providers – Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile – have signed on to allow texts to 911 to be available. While much of this initiative is expected to go into effect next year, nationwide coverage is planned to be available by May 2014.
The thought behind the text to 911 campaign is that the service will be an incredible help to those who can’t physically make a phone call or those who would be putting themselves in danger by trying to speak with someone. Also, for people with no electricity who are trying to save battery, sending a text message doesn’t require nearly as much battery power as making a phone call. For example, during and following Hurricane Sandy, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg gave New Yorkers the ability to send text messages to 311, as a way to free up the city’s phone lines and help emergency responders prioritize needs.
FCC Chariman Julius Genachowski said, “Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century.” The text-to-911 initiative is phase one of Genachowski’s “next-generation-911” proposed campaign. Eventually, the FCC plans to make sending photos and videos to emergency personnel available.
Although text-to-911 will be a great addition to emergency services, it is not meant to be a substitute for actual calling. If possible, the FCC says people should always make a voice call during an emergency.