In a panic-stricken, life-or-death moment, you now have another way to reach emergency responders.
You can send them a text.
In January, the Federal Communication Commission instituted a nationwide “Text-to-911” policy saying all wireless telephone companies and providers of interconnected text messaging services should enable consumers to send text messages to 911.
As of this week, several counties in 16 states now offer the ability to text emergency services, but the FCC is hoping people will still place a call to 911 while the program grows to other parts of the country.
“The commission has encouraged 911 call centers to begin accepting texts as text providers develop text-to-911 capability. It is up to each 911 call center to decide whether and when to begin accepting texts,” the FCC said. “Some call centers have started to accept text messages already. We expect that others will do so and that text-to-911 will become available in more areas over time.”
The FCC instituted a rule to “keep consumers safe” while the text-to-911 program fully spins up; where the service isn’t provided yet cell service providers will have to send a reject message to the sender, letting them know that no one received their text for help.
“All wireless telephone companies and certain other text messaging providers are required by the FCC to send an automatic ‘bounce-back’ message to any consumer who tries to send a text message to 911 where the service is not yet available,” the FCC white paper notes.
As of now, the FCC can’t force carriers to provide the Text-to-911 service, but the commission has “encouraged industry-developed solutions to achieve this goal, and proposed rules that would require all covered text providers to support text-to-911 by December 31, 2014.”
Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter