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Can you text 911 in an emergency & how would you do it?

Here’s everything you need to know about when and how to send a text to 911 from your cell phone in case of an emergency.

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In an ideal world, you’ll never be in a situation where you need to call 911. However, emergencies can occur at any moment, and when they do it’s always better to be prepared.

Calling 911 is the best way to contact emergency services. With a phone call, it’s far easier for a dispatcher to ask questions and get a better sense of your emergency. 

Occasionally, there may be circumstances when calling 911 isn’t an option. You may be in a situation where speaking on the phone will put you in more danger, you could be speech or hearing impaired, or you may be unable to use the receiver to listen to your dispatcher.

In 2014, the U.S. rolled out its Text-to-911 campaign for those in the above situations to send an SMS to emergency responders. 

Despite the national rollout, it’s important to note that texting isn’t available everywhere. Use this guide to understand when, where, and how you should text 911 when a phone call isn’t an option.

When you should send a text to 911

There’s a lot to think about during an emergency, so communicating effectively through text can be difficult. One wrong number or letter could send an ambulance or police car to the wrong address.

This is why texting 911 is primarily beneficial for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-disabled. 

You should always use the fastest and most effective way to get information across effectively to the dispatcher. Usually, this is a phone call but in some cases, texting is the only viable option.

For example, if you’re in a situation where an attacker or aggressor can overhear you, sending a text is the safest option to avoid escalating the situation.

As with all contact to 911, you should only be reaching out in emergencies and should not use the services as a go-to for solvable issues.

How to text 911

The first thing you need to know when texting 911, is that you must use your phone’s native SMS app. 911 is not available via Whatsapp, Telegram, or any other messaging platform. 

You’re likely very familiar with how to send a text to new numbers, and texting 911 is no different. 

If you’re still uncertain, follow these steps to reach a dispatcher.

1. Type 9-1-1 into your ‘To’ field

Open up your native SMS app and enter 9-1-1, the way you would any other phone number.

2. Provide details of the emergency

When texting 911, you have to bear in mind there is someone on the other end of the phone who has no idea what is happening to you or around you.

For this reason, it’s vital to share as much relevant information as possible, especially your location and which emergency responders you need (ambulance, police, or fire service).

Your dispatcher is likely to respond with questions, so keep your phone active and be ready to answer anything they may need to know. If you’re unsure of the right answer, simply let them know this, rather than leaving their messages unanswered. 

3. Send your message

Read over your text to make sure all of the information is correct. There’s a possibility that you’re nervous or in shock during an emergency, so double-checking your text is a necessity in case of a critical typo.

Once you’ve hit send and made contact with a dispatcher, you can send follow-up texts asking for assistance and guidance if necessary.

What you should send in the 911 text 

If you’re texting 911, you need to include as much information as possible in the first text:

  • What your emergency is
  • Where you are located
  • What responders you need

You need to make the information as clear and concise as possible. 

While sending a photo or video for some context of the emergency may seem like a good idea, 911 is currently only set up to receive SMS. 

Any kind of media format turns your SMS (standard messaging service) into an MMS (multimedia messaging service) and cannot be received by 911.

Instead, stick to sending a short, to-the-point message without emojis. The 911 call centers shouldn’t be able to misinterpret the message and you should always double-check and re-read your message before pressing send. 

72 yo male, unconscious and head wound, ambulance needed at 8823 Mortlake Lane

Who can be included in a text to 911 

You must only include 911 as the recipient of your text message. When you send a text message to multiple numbers through an SMS app, it will create a group message. 

911 must be a two-way conversation only for maximum efficiency and to ensure the dispatcher receives all of the relevant information from the initial contact only.

Avoid adding in emergency contacts or friends and family members. This will only slow the process down and you will receive a bounce-back message from 911.

Is text to 911 available in my state?

Every month, the FCC updates its list of locations that can receive texts to 911.

As each city and town has its own police department, it’s important to find out if your specific area can receive texts to 911, rather than your whole state. 

There are a number of reasons your city may not have Text-to-911 setup, and usually, this comes down to resources. 

Phone calls remain the most effective method of contacting 911 due to the easy exchange of information between the caller and dispatcher and it’s important to ensure callers are still able to get through to the necessary department.

Alternatively, your location or city may have poor phone signal. In this case, the public can’t use text in an emergency situation and setting Text-to-911 up is pointless.

No matter what state you’re in, you will know if your message has not been received. All wireless carriers are required to send a bounce-back message so you’ll never be left expecting emergency responders that aren’t coming.


Text-to-911 is for emergencies only

The introduction of texting 911 has made contacting emergency services easier and safer for Americans across the country. However, using a phone call where possible is still the best option to reach 911.

Texting a landline number like 911 may sound unreliable, but businesses and organizations across the U.S. use SMS-to-landline technology every day. 

Using an SMS platform like SimpleTexting enables you to send urgent messages to a large number of people and engage in two-way conversations to elaborate on the emergency. 

Alice Dodd
Alice Dodd

Alice is a copywriter at SimpleTexting. When not teaching the world about the benefits of business texting, you can find her feeding family, friends and strangers with her latest baking experiment.

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