Starting on Thursday, people in select locations across the country can text 9-1-1 with emergencies if they are unable to call them in.
The Federal Communications Commission is rolling out the service to make it easier to contact 9-1-1 for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, have a speech disability or are in a situation in which making a call could be dangerous. The FCC’s website states that making a phone call is still the best option when possible, because it allows the person calling in to relay information more quickly. First responders can also triangulate the caller’s location with a phone call, something that can’t be done via text.
To that point, the FCC asks that anyone texting 9-1-1 provide information about the situation and his or her exact location. The providers supporting the service include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.
The initial rollout [PDF] includes areas of Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. Though only people living in certain parts of those states can text 9-1-1 starting on Thursday, the FCC says anyone with a cellphone and enough service will be able to do so by the end of 2014.
Anyone who texts 9-1-1 in an area where emergency call centers do not yet support texts will receive a bounce-back message, informing them the text has not been sent and they should try to call instead.
Call centers are still updating their systems to be compatible with texts. According to the FCC’s site, anyone who wants to know whether their area has adopted the new technology can call their cellphone providers.