While the four major cell phone carriers have enabled text-to-911 capability for their customers, Washington residents still can’t text 911 for help.
“Citizens are getting confused,” said Grays Harbor E911 Director Peggy Fouts. “We cannot accept text messaging in Washington state at this point.”
It’s a two-part change that needs to happen, she explained. The changes implemented Thursday by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are the first step, but 911 centers then have to make their own technological changes in order to accept the text messages.
Fouts said Washington 911 centers are on the right kind of network, but Grays Harbor E911 still needs to buy new phones that can accept the messages. She hopes to make the necessary changes sometime in 2015.
“Texting can be an important tool for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired to use to directly access 9-1-1,” Fouts said. “In addition, in a situation where a victim does not want an intruder or abusive partner to hear them talking, text-to-911 can be very beneficial.”
In the meantime, anywhere 911 text services are currently not available, the four major wireless carriers have implemented an alert message warning anyone that sends a text that their 911 message was not received, and they should make a voice call to 911 instead.
“You might have a lot of little mom and pop shops that haven’t implemented the capabilities yet, but the FCC requirement was for the four major providers,” Fouts added. “They might not even have the bounceback message for their customers.”
Even when texting is fully functional, she advised, “Call when you can, text when you can’t. It’s much easier to get information over the phone.”