WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — The four largest wireless phone carriers have agreed to relay text messages to 911 emergency call centers in 2014.
The Federal Communications Commission stated that AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile – which cover nearly 90 percent of American mobile users – have all agreed to nationwide availability for the 911 call center technology by May of next year.
“Text-to-911 will provide consumers with enhanced access to emergency communications in situations where a voice call could endanger the caller, or a person with disabilities is unable to make a voice call,” reads the FCC press release from last Friday. “Text-to-911 will be a complement to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 911 services, and consumers should always make a voice call to 911 during an emergency if they can.”
SMS texting technology has been in popular use for nearly 20 years, but the service will not support third-party texting applications or roaming users.
Once the wireless carriers are set up, local emergency response centers will still need the proper equipment, software and training to utilize the new feature.
In order to avoid current confusion or communication breakdowns, the carriers will implement an alert message warning anyone who sends a text to 911 that their message “was not received,” and that they should make a phone call instead. That auto-reply system for non-texting call centers will be up and running by June 30, 2013, according to the press release.
One-third of the estimated 240 million calls to 911 are from wireless lines, according to the FCC’s website. The current systems support the modern, mobile technology. For example, some can pinpoint what tower a call was routed through to determine a more precise location of the mobile caller.
A 911 call center in Iowa started accepting texts in 2009, and some preliminary use of 911 texting are currently on in Vermont.