Making Government Work

Making Access to Emergency Help Easier, One Text at a Time

May 19, 2014
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Making Access to Emergency Help Easier, One Text at a Time
Soon we may be able to text 911 for help during emergency situations. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Because phone calls aren't always an option.

We’ve already told you about an effort to make 911 calls easier from motel rooms, where people often have to press “9” to make outgoing calls, a small step that had fatal consequences for one family.

Now, a new plan from the FCC is trying to make access to emergency help even easier for the most vulnerable citizens, including those who don’t even have the option of a phone call. Called “text-to-911,” the initiative allows select AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon customers to text 911 for help during emergency situations.

“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st Century,” said Julius Genachowski, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in a press release announcing the plan’s proposal in 2012.

Which is not to say texting is the agency’s preferred method of communication. There’s only a limited number of call centers that can receive texts at the moment, though the plan is slated to be available across the country by the end of the year. Still, dispatchers caution that voice-to-voice communication is still ideal for a number of reasons, including the transmission delays and limited character counts associated with texting.

But as Keith Wagstaff of NBC News writes, “It’s not ideal. But for some people, especially those with disabilities, text-to-911 could be a life-saver.”

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