This Text Could Save Your Life

The FCC moves closer to making text-to-911 available around the country.

This guy probably isn't sending a text message.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
Jan. 31, 2014, midnight

A vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans use text mes­saging, but most Amer­ic­ans can­not reach 911 by text dur­ing an emer­gency.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion wants to change that.

The five com­mis­sion­ers of the FCC voted un­an­im­ously Thursday to move for­ward a pro­pos­al that would make it man­dat­ory for cel­lu­lar car­ri­ers to make text-to-911 cap­ab­il­it­ies avail­able by the end of the year. The four ma­jor car­ri­ers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mo­bile, and Ve­r­i­zon — vo­lun­teered in 2012 to make text-to-911 avail­able by May.

Text-to-911 could be a lifesaver for people with speech and hear­ing dis­ab­il­it­ies, and in do­mest­ic-ab­use or home-in­tru­sion situ­ations.

Chair­man Tom Wheel­er said one deaf man told him, “This idea al­lows me to take con­trol of my life.”

Ac­cord­ing to to a re­cent sur­vey by Pew, 91 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans have a cell phone and 81 per­cent of those use it to send and re­ceive text mes­sages. Young Amer­ic­ans use their phones far more of­ten to text than to make voice calls.

But en­abling text-to-911 cap­ab­il­it­ies on cell phones is only half the battle. 911 call-cen­ters also have to up­date tech­no­logy to re­ceive mes­sages. Text-to-911 is cur­rently only avail­able in se­lect areas around the coun­try. The FCC does not have the au­thor­ity to make 911 call cen­ters, or pub­lic-safety an­swer­ing points, ac­cept text mes­sages.

“The FCC has done its part,” said Wheel­er. “Now its time for the [911 call-cen­ters] to do their part.”

Even in places where text-to-911 is avail­able, voice calls to 911 would re­main the pre­ferred meth­od of reach­ing 911 be­cause loc­a­tion track­ing is more ac­cur­ate.

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