Citizens in danger across the country will be able to text distress calls to 911 by May 2014, following an agreement with the nation’s four largest wireless carriers, the Federal Communications Commission has announced.
Major deployments of the text-to-911 service should be available through AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile during 2013, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday in a statement.
The carriers have also agreed to offer an automated “bounce back” message by June 2013 alerting people who text 911 if their message wasn’t received, Genachowski said. Those people will be instructed to call 911 instead, he said.
The growing prevalence of texting has led many people to presume they can text emergency requests to 911, but only a fraction of local emergency officials are prepared to accept texts now. Surveys have found more than half of Americans also presume help will arrive if they post a request to an emergency management agencies’ Facebook page.
“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century -- and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal,” Genachowski said.
The texting service will also benefit people with hearing and speech disabilities who are unable to communicate with 911 operators by phone, he said.
This story has been updated to clarify FCC’s role in the agreement.