With eight of 10 Americans using cellphones to send or receive text messages, some emergency response centers are updating their technology, reports the Texas Tribune. Among them are centers in 12 Texas counties, hoping to accommodate situations in which calling 911 may be risky or impossible. The text-to-911 service is an early step in a national initiative to modernize the emergency call system. The initial deployment in Texas, where the service is available at 27 call centers for Verizon or T-Mobile users, is one of the nation’s largest.
Text-to-911 technology, which allows a user to send a text to 911, also makes emergency response more accessible to the deaf community. Phone calls remain the priority, officials said, because voice calls have better location-targeting capabilities. How common text-to-911 will be remains uncertain. The technology has not been widely publicized because it works on only two networks and is not in use statewide. (It is in Vermont and Maine.) “This is important because most 911 centers are tethered to last century's voice-centered technology,” said Brian Fontes of the National Emergency Number Association, which focuses on 911 policy and technology. “Today we have smartphones, yet 911 centers don't have the same information-rich capabilities.”