Jun 2 2014

Phone 911 Rather Than Waste Time Trying to Text 911

Does texting 911 work in emergency situations? Will anyone receive a 911 text?

There can be circumstances when a victim does not want to speak because of the proximity of an assailant. In such a case, texting might be an attractive alternative, but does it work? On May 14, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon theoretically began enabling 911 texts to route to a local police department. However, each emergency call center has to decide how and when to allow Text-to-911.

Unfortunately, the carriers have been promoting their text 911 capability as though it connects with emergency personnel.┬áIt is not available in Piedmont or anywhere else in Alameda county, according to the Piedmont Police Department. And KTVU reports it won’t be available in the Bay Area for awhile.

“We’re up and ready to go, but we have some technological issues to deal with,” says Menlo Park Police Commander Dave Bertini.

The Highway Patrol confirmed to KTVU that the California Office of Emergency Services has yet to put together a plan for using 911 texts.

So what happens if you try to text 911?

“What happens is you get a text back that says make a voice call to 911. Text to 911 is not available,” Bertini said.

Although texting has replaced phone calls in the daily lives of many people, there are disadvantages to texting 911, even when it is possible. Texts could take longer to travel through the network than a 911 call from the same phone. Substantial delivery delays are a possibility in heavy demand periods or locations. Unlike 911 calls, they are not prioritized over other texts.

Will the text be understandable? The user’s slang may not be familiar to the police recipient. Most important, emergency call centers will receive only a general geo-location from a texter’s phone, not the usable address that is automatic with 911 phone calls. So, police response won’t be possible unless the address is part of the text.

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