Nobody wants to wind up in a life or death situation; but in the event that an emergency occurs, it is certainly good fortune to be carrying a cell phone, right? In general, the use of cell phones in emergency situations has helped dispatchers and first responders act quickly—which in turn has saved countless lives. This fact is due, in part, to the location features in most smart devices that allow emergency services to track a caller. Moreover, explaining a situation over a mobile device is far more efficient than typing up an email or sending smoke signal—most of the time.
In some rare cases, it’s not possible or safe to communicate orally during an emergency. Who can forget the intense moment from Liam Neeson’s 2008 hit Taken, when his daughter is lying facedown under a bed praying her attackers don’t find her? Meanwhile, her father waits helplessly on the other line while she is carried away, presumably for making too much noise on her cell phone.
This is just one exaggerated example but, truth be told, the ability to text 911 could come in handy under certain circumstances.
How Texting 911 Works
Just last week, the Honolulu Police Department announced its plans to launch a Text 911 system, an emergency service that will allow anyone with text features on a phone to text for help. This system includes police, firefighters, and paramedics and works similarly to the phone system we commonly use.
According to the Honolulu PD, the system is not yet available but expected to launch sometime in the next few months. While this is a great service to offer residents of Oahu, it’s most certainly not the first of its kind.
Vermont, in fact, was the first state to organize a statewide text-to-911 system in 2014. A successful trial run with Verizon in 2012 dispelled any doubt naysayers had about flooding dispatchers with negligent texts. In 2013, Vermont received approximately 150 text-to-911 messages, ten of which helped victims of domestic abuse successfully communicate their situations without compromising their safety.
However, Vermont’s success is tightly linked to a centralized public-safety system that makes room for fast action and changes to protocol. This is not the case everywhere. Most of the time, public safety initiatives like the text-to-911 system require participation from city or county level officials—which amounts to a lot more time and money.
The bottom line: state emergency call centers will have to adopt several new technologies in order to make text-to-911 a viable solution for everyone in the US. Despite support from the FCC, this has not come to fruition just yet and will likely proceed slower than expected for obvious bureaucratic reasons.
For now, emergency services still emphasize the importance of making a voice call to 911 in the event of an emergency. While texting may be necessary under obscure circumstances, one huge disadvantage of the service is that emergency call centers are not yet able to track an emergency text.
Smoke signals are also not advised.