A crucial service allowing citizens to text an emergency to 911 commenced Thursday for those in select cities and states, and will be available across the U.S. by the end of 2014.
The FCC announced the rollout plans in January, and all four major U.S. carriers including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint have come on board, Gizmodo reported
In addition to being helpful to the deaf, the service provides a potentially life-saving new option for those who need to contact emergency services silently, such as those hiding from an intruder, standing in line during a bank robbery, or any potential victim who may put themselves in danger by making audible sounds.
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The Huffington Post points out that the service could have helped during the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech
, when many students tried to text 911. The texts, however, didn't go anywhere as the service was not available at the time.
Currently Maine, Vermont, and Iowa are the only places where text-to-911 is available statewide, and the FCC has a full list of individual counties and other jurisdictions where it's currently available, like Dallas, Texas; Durham, North Carolina; and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Those who try to text the service from an un-supported jurisdiction will receive a bounce-back message informing them that their text did not reach anyone.
FCC spokespersons reminds those who may need to use the service in the future should keep in mind that if a call is possible, it should be prioritized, because text messages don't send caller ID or location data to dispatchers. That means each user needs to manually text their full name and address, which could eat up valuable time during a crisis situation.
Dispatchers are also trained to guide callers, ask important questions, and give crucial advice, which could be hampered by texting.
Commentors on Engadget noted
that its possible to set up keyboard shortcuts for texting one's name and address quickly, and others pointed out that calling or texting 911 via "always listening" voice-command could be helpful in certain situations where one is unable to reach the phone, such as in a car accident.
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