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Emergency Text To 911 Available, But There's A Catch

By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) -- As of today, most mobile device users have the ability to send a text to 911 in an emergency, but that doesn't mean law enforcement will be able to respond.

While the full service will eventually be available across the country, it currently is limited to certain areas and companies.

As of today, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint will support texting 911. Other carriers could also join in the future.

However, just because the companies are supporting 911 texting, it doesn't mean that authorities everywhere can respond to it.

Emergency call centers implement text messaging in their areas. These centers are controlled locally, not by the FCC, which governs the carriers.

In other words, mobile companies can now forward the texts, but it's up to the call centers to receive and dispatch them. That requires tech upgrades and training.

In Illinois, for example, Verizon subscribers in Cook County have the ability to text 911, according to a FCC document dated May 9. In fact, Verizon has offered the 911 text functionality since December.

CBS Chicago has placed a call to the FCC to determine when the service will be more widely available.

In Northwest Indiana, Lake County has delayed implementing the plan as it considers ways to consolidate its 911 operations.

Text-to-911 is useful for any situation in which it is dangerous or impossible to speak.

Law enforcement officials cautioned, however, that in most cases people who can should call 911, rather than send a text message.

"In most circumstances a call is best," Indiana State Police Captain David Bursten told the Associated Press.

Ritter said voice calls to 911 allow dispatchers to more accurately locate the source of a call, and also allow them to hear the environment behind the caller or other clues they can pass on to first responders headed to the scene.

"They can hear the inflection in the caller's voice, whereas in a text message they miss all that," he said.

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