Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to 911 emergency call takers from mobile phone or device. This ability is useful for deaf and hard of hearing consumers and also for anyone who is unable to make a voice call in a dangerous situation.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules require all wireless carriers and other providers in the United States to deliver emergency texts to call centers that request them. If a call center requests one, the providers must have it delivered within six months. These rules apply to providers of interconnected text messaging applications.
In most areas, deaf and hard of hearing residents can only seek emergency assistance from a 911 call center (also known as a Public Safety Answering Point or “PSAP”) by using a TTY or a relay service, both of which are time-consuming. However, the FCC does not have authority to issue rules regulating 911 emergency call centers so it cannot require these centers to accept text messages; that is under the purview of the Department of Justice (DOJ), which has yet to issue any rules regarding text-to-911 capabilities. Instead, the FCC is encouraging emergency call centers to begin accepting texts as text providers develop text-to-911 capability.
911 is a critical life-saving program that should be directly, immediately, and equally accessible to all. The NAD continues to advocate for implementation of text-to-911 across the country.
If you want to know if the area where you are in, or which areas has that text-to-911 available, the FCC has a master registry here. You can also inquire with your wireless phone company to see whether text-to-911 is available in your area.
If you do send a text message to 911, it is important to include an accurate address or location as quickly as possible.
What if I can’t text 911 yet?
If you attempt to send a text to 911 where the service is not available, FCC rules require all wireless carriers and other text messaging providers to send an automatic “bounce-back” message that will advise you to contact emergency services by another means. Bounce-back messages are intended to minimize your risk of mistakenly believing that a text to 911 has been transmitted to an emergency call center.
If you are deaf or hard of hearing, and text-to-911 is not available, use telecommunications relay services, if possible. The NAD encourages deaf and hard of hearing consumers to reach out to their local emergency call center to advocate that they deploy text-to-911 capability.
Next Generation 911 (NG911) Emergency Services
In addition to text-to-911, there is significant work currently being done by advocates as well as numerous public safety, industry and government groups to facilitate the development of a Next Generation 911 (NG911) system by 2020. NG911 will be enabled by an interconnected system of local, regional and state emergency services Internet-Protocol (IP) networks that is capable of handling text, data, images and video from wireless and digital communications devices.
Cellular service and most other commercial and public safety communications systems are transitioning to IP-based networks. These technologies should enable major advances in the ability of all users and public safety responders to send or receive critical information to, from and beyond the emergency services internetwork, such as emergency calls in American Sign Language via video or medically-relevant data transmitted from a vehicle crash.
The NG911 system offers great promise for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Deaf and hard of hearing individuals should be able to directly access PSAPs using their preferred mode of communication, whether by video, text, instant messaging, or other means.