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Text messaging is one of the primary ways people communicate today, particularly young people, members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, and those with speech disabilities. Statistics have shown that an estimated 6 billion SMS messages are sent every day in the United States. The 911 community is constantly striving to meet the evolving needs of the public, and right now that means implementing text-to-911 solutions. While text-to-911 does have some limitations and challenges, the ability to text 911 in an emergency when someone may be unable to place a phone call has the potential to save many more lives.
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Text-to-911 is the ability to send text messages from your mobile phone to local 911 call centers in an emergency if you are unable to place a phone call. In Maryland, residents and visitors who are enrolled in their carrier’s text and/or data plan can use text-to-911. If text-to-911 service is not available, users will receive a bounce back message telling them to place a phone or relay call.
There are many significant benefits to text-to-911, especially in cases when the caller cannot communicate verbally. For example, text-to-911 is extremely useful for those who are hard of hearing, deaf, or speech-impaired. Text-to-911 can also help in situations when a crime is in process; the caller is facing domestic abuse; the caller is injured and cannot speak; or other scenarios.
Text-to-911 is now available statewide to all residents and visitor in Maryland. If the service is not available in a certain area, or if temporarily unavailable, users will receive a bounce back message telling them to place a phone or relay call to request emergency service. A phone call is still the preferred method for contacting 911 even when text-to-911 is available. Text-to-911 is intended for use in three primary scenarios; for individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or have a speech disability; for someone in a situation where it may be unsafe to place a voice call to 911; for an individual who is experiencing a medical emergency and may be unable to speak. The general rule is: call if you can, text if you can’t.
Wireless carriers will provide text-to-911 services in the format requested by local 911 call centers, e.g., through TTY, through Internet Protocol (IP), or other technologies. The carriers will provision the service based on the call centers’ requests. Text-to-911 service in Maryland is supported by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Users must be enrolled in a text and/or data plan to text 911.
Text-to-911, like all text messaging, is not without challenges. It may take longer for text messages to 911 to be received and responded to. Text messages to 911 also may be received out of order and do not include the same location information as a voice or relay call. When texting 911, it’s important to remember to include the location of the emergency in the initial message. Additionally, 911 centers cannot receive pictures or videos via text message. Messages should be short and use simple language.
Follow these steps to text 911 in an emergency:
1. Enter 911 into the “To” field of a new message
2. Your first text should be short and include the location of the emergency and the type of service needed – police, fire, or ambulance
3. Press the send button
4. Answer questions from the 911 specialist and follow the instructions he or she provides
5. Text in simple words; do not use abbreviations or slang
6. Keep messages short
If your text has been received, a 911 specialist should respond to your text. If text-to-911 is not available in your area, or is temporarily unavailable, you should receive a message from your wireless carrier letting you know that you must place a voice or relay call to 911.
Standard text messaging rates apply.