How text-to-911 may help to save lives during severe weather

By Carolyn Sistrand, AccuWeather staff writer

When severe weather strikes, it is important to have emergency contacts handy and all communication devices charged. What people can’t prepare for, however, is losing signal or the onslaught of calls to the local police station that can make it difficult to call for help.

However, there is another way to report an emergency: texting 911.

The text-to-911 capability is not available in all areas across the country, but the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is encouraging that call centers everywhere begin adopting this service.


This March 19, 2018 photo shows a notification badge on the Messages app on an iPad in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A simple message like “help me” or “emergency,” for example, can get you in contact with services. It is important to know you should not text 911 for anything that is not considered an emergency, which would be otherwise classified as a medical problem, life-threatening issue, safety risk or dangerous situation.

If you don’t have a signal, it can be difficult to call. Sometimes, however, when you find a slight signal, it could be enough to get that text sent in an emergency situation.

There is a list of areas that are implementing this service, and the FCC updates this every month. Before a natural disaster or severe weather events threatens you and your home, it could be important to add to your emergency contact sheet if your area provides this service.

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For anyone who attempts to text 911 and doesn't know if the service is available in their area, a “bounce-back” message will be sent to let them know. This response is important because it informs you that emergency services have not received your message for help.

The FCC still recommends that voice calls be the first option when contacting emergency services, however, when calls don’t go through, texting can be the next best step. For those who are deaf, hard of hearing or having a speech disability, they are encouraged to try contacting through their TTY or telecommunications relay service before resorting to text-to-911.

Preparedness is key to stay safe during any weather emergency, so know what emergency resources are available to you.

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