back to article Telco offers 911 by txt

Americans in Iowa can now summon the emergency services by text message, as long as they're with T-Mobile, happen to be within Black Hawk County and have time to respond to a message or two. The service isn't perfect just yet - tracking location from a text is tricky - so anyone using the 911-text service will receive a …


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  1. Havin_it

    Apostrophe Police

    "American's in Iowa"

    I'm sure s/he is, but that's hardly newsworthy I would have thought.

    C'mon Ms Bee, what's your excuse this time?

  2. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    taking their cue from The IT Crowd?

    Moss: Subject: Fire. Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire that has broken out on the premises of 123 Cavendon Road... no, that's too formal.

    [deletes text, starts again]

    Moss: Fire - exclamation mark - fire - exclamation mark - help me - exclamation mark. 123 Cavendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. Yours truly, Maurice Moss.

  3. seanj


    According to the Associated Press "The call center's operators are able to text back from their computers to conduct a conversation with the texter"

    arrgh. copyright infringement...

    Ok, ok, I'll get my coat...

  4. Anonymous Coward


    As far as I understand, this kind of traffic gets delivered as "best effort", in other words, it might or might not turn up in time. (Just like email, actually)

    Get ready for someone to die...

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Oh My God.

    "Um, excuse me, kidnappers? Could you just untie my hands so I can text 911? Oh and please don't drive out of Black Hawk county until they've had time to locate me, ok?"

    Jesus f'n Christ.

  6. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    Interesting thought

    This could have practical purposes for instances like home invasions where a phone call can reveal a person's hiding place. What I'm waiting for is for a crime to be committed using the modern equivalent of cutting the phone lines, that is, one of those cheap cell phone jammers -- or a home-made one for that matter.

    Of course, this has the potential for being abused: spoofed text message sources, prank text messages, etc. But I do not think any more than traditional phone lines. I would imagine as well that text message sources could be determined using the same technology as call location. That would certainly cut down on the amount of interaction necessary to complete the call.

    Paris, invading my home and cutting my cords (yipes!)

  7. Martin 6 Silver badge

    Or out of range

    There have been a lot of people who are in the backcountry or out at sea that have been rescued by a txt when there wasn't enough signal for a call.

    There was one in the caribbean who texted their parents in the UK, who then called the US coastguard.

  8. James O'Brien

    Hold up

    "Anyone not using i wireless, the local carrier for T-Mobile, will receive a text message suggesting they call 911, at least until the service can be rolled out more comprehensively."

    Not using *i wireless*? Some newfangled for of wireless I dont know about? ;-)

    Now the other question is this, do standard txting charges apply if those people who use it dont have a txting plan?

    the kidnapped persons next month bill:

    Txt charges for 911 txting service: $16,527. . .

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Whu... where am I?"

    "You're in a secret underground lair, kidnapee. A secret underground lair- in zip code Iowa 50703. Oh, and here's your phone back. Sorry for the scratches, I snipped the speaker and mic wires so you couldn't call for help. But, you know, feel free to text. Don't want you getting lonely and escape-y, do we?"

  10. jake Silver badge


    All cell phones in the US, even without activation, can reach 911 emergency services as long as they have power. So what the hell is the point? Talk about a waste of money!

  11. David Pottage
    Thumb Up

    Similar plans in the UK

    There is a planned trial for a similar system in the UK See:

    The main target market is deaf people who cannot converse with a normal 999 operator, and don't have a text phone handy. For them it will probably save lives. Like the Iowa system getting locations will be hard, so the distressed person will be expected to provide some sort of address.

    The main down side of the planned UK system is that users have to pre-register (I think this is to discorage abuse). If the system goes ahead, then hopefully all deaf people in the will lean about it and will pre-register their phones, but there will still be tragedies if people fail to register a new phone or borrow one.

    Then there are the action movie plots where the hero is hiding is a cupboard under the nose of the evil hostage taker, and can't txt to 999 because he did not pre-register his phone, and when he makes a voice call he is heard and captured.

  12. Kotonoha
    Thumb Up


    This is actually a really good idea.

  13. Paul Hates Handles



  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Subject: Fire

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Fire! Fire! Help me!

    123 Carrendon Road.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    All the Best,

    Maurice Moss

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Twitter's next

    Why not on Twitter too, for those who don't have a phone :)

  16. Mike007


    the 2 main suggestions for uses are deaf people and a kidnap victim hiding, a kidnap victim might not be able to talk but they can press the keys "are you there?" DTMF tone, i'm sure they'd figure it out quick enough "ok once for no, twice for yes, do you need help?" DTMF tone, DTMF tone...

    buf for deaf people this could certainly be useful - if rolled out nationally, with decent tracking (seriously, they can track the phone just as well from any signal, a call isn't tracked any better than registration messages or SMS messages etc... although a call is a more continuous stream for following moving targets - but i'm sure repeated "pinging" from the base stations can solve that when needed), but the pre-registration idea they want for the UK.. what? talk about stupid!

  17. Christian Berger

    Target market

    Of course the target market are people who cannot speak or listen.

  18. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    I Wireless not that close to T-Mobile

    I Wireless isn't that close to T-Mobile, apparently, at least in T-Mobile's minds...

    I Wireless bought spectrum from T-Mobile.

    The I Wireless ads say "I Wireless, a T-Mobile affiliate"

    But my friend that had T-Mobile got terminated for excessive roaming*, for roaming on I Wireless. He now has Verizon instead.

    Anyway, I could see this being a useful service. It seems most logical to me, if the 911 dispatches have operator(s) to handle TDD (Terminal Device for the Deaf), to have them handle the texts since both involve getting a textual message and typing a response.

    *Most plans in the US have free roaming within the whole US. However, other than Verizon Wireless (who has no roaming limits whatsoever), most cellular providers here have a 50% roaming limit (and for AT&T it's only 40%). That is, if more than 50% of your minutes used per month are roaming for 3 months in a row, your line is cancelled.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No biggie

    Several local councils in the UK do this already via Dialogue Communications.

  20. BioTube

    Actually useful

    Most phones have keys quieter than the volume needed to be heard over a voicelink, so the thrown-in-the-trunk kidnap victim has a better chance.

  21. Bill Cumming
    Black Helicopters

    Most phones have GPS

    Why don't mobiles have a "Emergancy" button or function that grabs the GPS co-ords and sticks it in a txt with the words "Need HELP!" and sends it to 112 or 911 or 999

    The chopper 'cause it's black and perfect for those stealth "Rescue" missions...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    signal strength and battery

    I've been in places where there wasn't enough signal for a voice call, but I was able to send a text. I've also been in the situation of my phone not having enough battery for a voice call, but I was able to send a text. Examples of emergencies in which you would be able to send a text: trapped in an overturned car, broken a leg while walking in a lonely place, in a boat with no motor, and trapped in a burning building: if the staircase is on fire then you can't leave, but you might have hours to live if you can close some doors to stop the smoke getting to you.

  23. Tim Bates

    Under 20's

    Look how many teens can text faster than they can write with a pen or type on a computer... No problems with typing there.

    Some commenters seem to assume criminals are smart... Most, thankfully, are not. Thus kidnap victims often are left with a phone at some stage, but talking would be obvious. Trouble is the beeping of the phone might also be a bit obvious, so I don't know if that helps much.

  24. Maj

    911 Text Messaging

    Virginia Tech students would have loved to have been able to text 9-1-1 when they were hiding from the shooter while he reloaded his gun.

    The deaf community love being able to get help when they are away from home and away from their TDD. Young hearing impaired rely on texting.

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