How to Text 911 in an Emergency

Text 911 Featured Image

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were in an emergency and unable to speak? How would you contact the authorities to try and get help? Since 2014, Text-to-911 has been giving people in the United States the ability to send text messages in place of making a voice call in an emergency.

Perhaps you are in a dangerous situation where you cannot risk making any noise and being discovered. You could have been injured in such a way that you cannot speak. It’s also useful when the cell reception is just so bad that you cannot keep a call connected, but a text message could possibly go through.

Text 911 Emergency

The text-to-911 service is only available in certain areas, so before an emergency actually arises, you should determine if that is an option where you live. You can do this by checking the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) website. Check their list of areas that support text-to-911 service. This list is updated monthly.

Even though the FCC encourages local 911 call centers to implement Text-to-911, it is still ultimately up to the individual center to decide if they want to do this or not.

The FCC does require, however, that every wireless carrier company deliver 911 texts to the centers that accept them. When a call center decides to accept 911 texts, the wireless carriers have six months to provide that service in that area.

No special equipment or signup is necessary. However, if you use an alternate messaging app that does not send messages to actual United States phone numbers, you cannot use text-to-911. You also cannot use social media messaging apps, only registered phone numbers with a text-messaging feature.

What to include in the text

Open your text messaging app, put 911 in the recipient field, and type your message. Make sure you spell everything out to avoid any misunderstandings between you and the 911 operator.

Try to get everything into one text. Text messaging is a slower way to communicate with a 911 operator, so you want to make sure you get as much information into your original text as possible. The fewer times you and the operator have to go back and forth, the faster the help will arrive. Also, if you are hiding, you don’t want your phone lighting up multiple times.

Text 911 Hiding

First, explain why you can’t call. Calling 911 is still the most efficient and fastest way to communicate during an emergency. It is common for a 911 operator who receives a text to text you back asking you to make a voice call. If they know right away that you cannot call, they won’t need to ask about this, and it will save critical time.

In that first message, include your location. Text messaging does not often send location information along with the message. Assume that the operator has no idea where you are and give details including the address, nearby intersections, names of the buildings around you, or the name of the business where you are.

Also in that initial contact message, tell the operator exactly what is occurring, if people are injured, if anyone has a weapon, and any other vital information. You want the emergency responders to arrive for the situation completely prepared.

What NOT to include

Keep what you are saying simple and clear. Don’t use slang. Spell out every word without using abbreviations. Also, do not use any emojis in the text.

Do not send any photos or videos. Emergency systems that accept text-to-911 cannot view them. Also, do not send the text to other recipients at the same time. The message will not get into their system. A straightforward text, with as much information as possible, is the best way to reach them.

Don’t assume success

If you try to send a 911 text in an area that does not support the technology, you’ll receive an automatic bounce-back message. This text tells you that your message did not go through. The FCC requires these messages. They reduce the possibility of you thinking the message went through when it didn’t reach the authorities.

Text 911 Location

It is also an excellent idea to send another text to another contact of yours so they can call 911 as well. That person can help the operator understand where you are and what the problem is.

Remember, calling 911 is still the preferred method of reaching emergency services because it is fast and reliable. Most areas in the United States have not adopted this technology yet. Texting should only be used in the situations outlined above, when there is no other choice. There is no other way to be sure that your text was received unless you hear back from the operator.

Above all, remain calm and stay aware of your surroundings. Your safety is the most crucial issue.

Tracey Rosenberger
Tracey Rosenberger

Tracey Rosenberger spent 26 years teaching elementary students, using technology to enhance learning. Now she's excited to share helpful technology with teachers and everyone else who sees tech as intimidating.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox