With more than 80 percent of Americans using their cellphones to send and receive text messages, it only makes sense we should be able to text 911 in an emergency. But that ability is only now just coming online and there’s still a lot of work to do before it’s universal: Only 100 call centers out of more than 6,000 across the country are capable of receiving and responding to text messages,, reported Governing Magazine.
Now that America’s four major wireless phone carriers have agreed to support text-to-911, however, expect to see the number of call centers accepting text messages grow rapidly, says Trey Forgety, director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). “Nearly everyone is either working to move to text-to-911 or is planning how they are going to do it,” he says.
Next-generation 911 isn’t cheap. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that to upgrade every call center in the country to next-generation 911 will cost nearly $3 billion. For now, that means call centers will have different capabilities. And until everyone adopts text-to-911, those who try to text an emergency call center that’s not equipped for texts will get a bounce-back message from the phone carriers, instructing them to call 911.
The Hamilton County, Ohio, Communications Center is one of the first to adopt next-generation 911 technology. The center handles 688,000 calls annually, and Jayson Dunn, the center’s director, says, “We were a bit anxious the move would overwhelm us with messages.” That hasn’t been the case.
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