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Text-to-911: Call if you can, Text if you can’t

Introduction

Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from your mobile phone. Be advised, however, that even in areas where call centers accept text-to-911, existing voice-based 911 service is still the most reliable and preferred method of contact–when possible.

There will always be many places in the outdoors that are just on the edge of cellular service. Mountains and canyons guarantee that. And so Text-to-911 is particularly useful when the service your phone is receiving isn’t enough to support a phone call, but is enough to get a single simple message out. Because of this and many other reasons, we think Text-to-911 is an important capability that more people should know about and be prepared to take advantage of!

Federal Rules

If you attempt to send a text to 911 where the service is not yet available, FCC rules require all wireless carriers and other text messaging providers to send an automatic “bounce-back” message that will advise you to contact emergency services by another means, such as making a voice call or using telecommunications relay service (for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability).

Bounce-back messages are intended to minimize your risk of mistakenly believing that a text to 911 has been transmitted to an emergency call center. FCC rules require all wireless carriers and other providers of text messaging applications in the United States to deliver emergency texts to call centers that request them. If a call center requests text-to-911 service, text messaging providers must deliver the service in that area within six months.

Coverage Map

While the FCC manages and publishes a registry of which Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) accept Text-to-911, the information isn’t optimized to answer the really important question of “Does it work where I am right now?” 

Since the lifesaving potential is so great, AirFlare answers that question for you. From the main menu, by navigating to AirFlare’s Local Contact Info page, you can quickly determine whether T911 service is available in the county you are in. If available, selecting ‘TEXT 911” will automatically pull your phone’s GPS coordinates into a text message that can be sent to a 911 operator. 

The coverage map below provides an overview of where Text-to-911 services currently exist.

 

Disclaimer

It’s important to note that this information is provided on a best-effort basis and comes with no warranties or guarantees of accuracy. Errors or omissions are possible at many levels: the PSAPs themselves, the FCC, or here at AirFlare.  For example, in our experience, if you believe an area supports T911 but it isn’t shown here, the most likely explanation is that the PSAP hasn’t notified the FCC yet!

Technical Details

Briefly and roughly, for those wishing to understand more deeply the process involved (hopefully to share it with more people or help improve our process!), there’s three main constituent data sets being combined: the FCC T911 PSAP registry and the Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data’s PSAP 911 Service Area Boundaries (SAB) as well as US County Boundaries. The main way an area gets associated with T911 service is the registry PSAP ID matches the ID in the SAB. There’s also a number of different, less computer-friendly notation formats in the registry, and those get associated with service areas via careful heuristics. One example is an invalid or out of date PSAP ID, but the PSAP name is “Blah County Police Department” so we mark Blah County as having T911 service.

Feedback

As with every part of AirFlare, we’re constantly working to make it better.  If you have any feedback on Text-to-911 or anything else, please don’t hesitate to email support (at) airflare.com!