Americans in select cities can now send text messages to 911, the FCC announced on its website Thursday.
The FCC has provided a full list of counties in which text-to-911 is currently available. Some areas that currently support text-to-911 include Dallas, Texas; Durham, North Carolina; and a few whole states, like all of Maine, Iowa and Vermont. The FCC expects text-to-911 to be available across the entire country in the future.
If you try to text 911 in an area in which it's not currently supported, you'll receive a bounce-back message, warning you that your text didn't go through to a call center.
Texting 911 is particularly useful for those who have difficulty hearing or speaking, as well as for people in situations in which it would be more dangerous to speak out loud. If someone is hiding from an attacker, for example, the option to text 911 for help could be lifesaving. During the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, many students attempted to text 911 as they hid from the shooter on campus -- but their texts never went through because text-to-911 was not supported at the time.
The FCC says that calling is still the best way to reach 911 operators, so you should make phone calls instead of texting whenever possible. When you speak to a 911 operator over the phone, he or she can infer more information from your tone of voice and potentially hear things in the background. In addition, when a phone call comes in through 911, the operator automatically gets some information about where you're located. This doesn't happen in most cases when you text, so be sure to provide your address if you do text 911.
As always, it's against the law in most places to make a prank call to 911. For all you potential jokesters out there, just be warned it's not OK to prank text 911 either.