Brush up on your texting skills, they could soon help you reach 911


First Posted: 12/07/12 06:04 PM ET Updated: 12/10/12 12:39 PM ET

Originally posted Dec 6, 2012 on Engadget by Richard Lawler, revised for AOL by Rob Zanicchi & Joe Pollicino

Two decades and more than 8 trillion messages after the birth of SMS (Short Message Service a.k.a. text messages), it's kind of hard to believe we're still not equipped with a widespread standard to text 911 during emergencies. Talk about the ability to send messages, photos or videos to rescue coordinators has been circulating for years -- and now, it looks like the wireless industry is ready to move as one to make text-to-911 a reality across the US. The Big Four (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon) along with The 911 Association and the Association for Public-Safety Communications Officials International, have submitted an agreement to the FCC outlining the projected plans.

These groups will work together on standards, procedures and technology deployments that aim to provide a "seamless introduction" of the supplemental emergency system across our nation. Text-to-911 is projected to aid millions of people, including those with hearing or speech disabilities, by acting as an alternate method of communication, especially "in situations where a voice call could endanger the caller".

While they're not promising the service will be available everywhere in two years time, there are several target dates for progression. According to the plans, support for bounce-back notifications that alert texters when the service isn't available in their area will be live by June 30th, 2013, and a "commitment" date of May 15th, 2014 has been highlighted for nationwide rollouts. Throughout this year, several carriers were making individual attempts at similar service offerings. In September, AT&T announced a trial run for its subscribers in the state of Tennessee and Verizon detailed its own initiative four months earlier -- roughly a year after its 2011 debacle, when it dropped 10,000 emergency calls during an East Coast snowstorm. Now, with a joint effort by industry giants, you should be able to avoid busy signals at your time of need -- texting fingers crossed.

Source: Voluntary Text Commitment (PDF), FCC