Did you know you can text 911 from your mobile phone rather than call?
You can now text your local police or emergency services in many North American locations by sending an SMS message to 911. When you cannot make a call to get help, this could save your life. It is not possible to text 911 everywhere yet, though. Make sure you check whether texting 911 is available in your location.
If you don’t live in North America, it is essential to know that your police and emergency service numbers may differ. For example, in the Philippines, 911 is used for emergency services when calling from a landline, but you must dial 112 if calling from a mobile phone. Other countries have emergency-specific numbers for ambulance service, electric service, and gas service, to name a few.
When Should You Text 911?
Texting 911 can be helpful in a range of emergency situations:
When You Need to Stay Quiet
In specific emergencies, you do not want to give away your location by making any noise. Or you may not want someone to know that you are calling for help. You can text 911 silently and ask the responder not to call you back.
When You Have Poor Signal
If you are in a location with a poor signal, your phone may not connect a call to 911. Even if you get through, the poor audio quality could make it difficult for you to communicate. This could create a delay in directing emergency services to your location.A text may be a quicker solution for getting vital information to the police. Your phone will keep trying to send the text until it is successful. For example, if you have intermittent signal because of emergency weather, texting can be more reliable than trying to call repeatedly until you get through.
When the Lines Are Busy
In a significant emergency that affects many people, the emergency dispatch lines may be busy with other people calling for help. Texting 911 can provide a way to make sure emergency services get your message and know where you are and what kind of help you need.
If You Are Deaf and Don’t Have Access to Teletype
If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you might already have a Teletype (TTY) device. You can use these to communicate with emergency services. They may not always be available, however. For example, you may need to contact emergency services using someone else’s phone. If you Text 911, you can still have a two-way conversation with emergency services using any mobile device.
What Should You Include in Your Text to 911?
Including everything that emergency services need to know in your first text to 911 lets them get help to you faster.
An unclear text could mean the operator needs to contact you again to get more details. The critical information to send depends on your situation. However, answering all the following questions should get all the details across in most scenarios:
Where Are You?
Some emergency dispatchers have the technology to find you using your mobile device, but this is not nearly as common as you think. Always include your location with the address if you know it, and nearby landmarks can also help emergency services find you faster.
Which Emergency Service Do You Need?
Do you need an ambulance, police, or the fire department? Putting this at the start of your text helps emergency services organize a faster response.
Is Anyone Hurt?
Emergency services need to know how many people have been hurt and what injuries they have sustained to arrive prepared to give the best medical help. If injured people are spread out or trapped, you should also include their locations.
Is There Still a Danger in the Area?
Tell emergency services about any potential dangers or threats that are still present at the scene, so they can be prepared to deal with them when they arrive. Give as much detail as you can. For example, give the location of a fire and the cause, if you know it. If there are attackers, report their number and what weapons they have, if any.
Can You Reply?
When you text 911, emergency services may try to call you or text you back asking for more information. You might not be able to respond after texting them, and you might not want the sound of an incoming text or call to give away your location. Alternatively, you might not want someone to see an incoming call or text from the police on your phone. Let them know if this is the case so that they do not contact you.
What Happens When You Text 911?
When you text 911, the operator will usually try to contact you by calling or texting back, unless you have asked them not to. If you can answer, they will ask for any more information about the emergency they might need, and they can also advise you on providing basic first aid to any victims so that you can assist.
Suppose there is no text to 911 service available at your location. In that case, your mobile network provider will send an immediate bounce-back message informing you to contact emergency services by another means.
Texting emergency services should be treated the same as calling 911. Wasting emergency responders’ time with trivial or hoax messages carries the same legal implications as if you had called.
Limitations of Texting 911
Texting 911 only works when you send your message via SMS. This means you cannot message emergency services using messaging apps like WhatsApp, and you also cannot send MMS. Do not include any photos, video, or voice note with your message, as any text containing an image, video, or audio becomes an MMS message, which emergency services will not receive.
Emergency service call centers may have limited resources to respond to text messages. This might mean a longer wait for them to read your text and get help to you. If you can call and the lines are clear, calling 911 will usually get emergency responders to your location faster.
Texting 911 Can Be a Lifesaver in the Right Situation
Texting 911 is not the best way to contact emergency services in every situation. If you can call, that is usually the fastest way to get help. However, in cases where you cannot speak on the phone or can’t get a call through, it can provide a reliable alternative to get in touch with emergency services.