back to article US text-to-911 emergency SMS to go live by 2014

"Omg hlp nd a dr" may soon become a familiar phrase to emergency operators in the US, thanks to a plan to enable text messaging to the 911 emergency telephone number from anywhere in the country by 2014. On Thursday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Julius Genachowski announced that the four major US mobile …


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  1. Anomalous Cowturd


    im dyn. LOL

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: OMFG

      SMS will often get through when there is almost no signal

      There have been lots of cases where people have been rescued from the local mountains here or from boats where they couldn't get a phone signal. But since 911 can't do SMS they have had to text a friend and ask them to call 911

    2. LarsG

      What if

      In the heat of the moment the spell checker decides to modify your text and you don't realise.

      'Please help I'm at 3 bollocks to you Santa Claus bend over and take it like a germ'

      Which should have read 'I live at 3 Kensington Street, Hill Side, Kensington, London...'

      Can you see that there might be complications in this?

      Or lots of HOAX texts?

    3. MrT

      But what if...

      ...the system blocks profanities...? I have used an email service recently that objected to the word 'joint' and any web address.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm sorry

      'I'm sorry, you have reached the limit of the number of text messages you can send. Please contact your service provider to top up your account.'

      1. leexgx

        Re: I'm sorry

        999 or 911 texts are free so cant be charged for (they have your number if your sending fake SMS 999 or 911 texts)

        in the UK thought you have to Register 999 text before it works (its meant for death or hard of hearing people), but in the USA it needs to be enabled for every one due to the way gun LAWs are there

        1. MrT

          They've got *a* number...

          ...but just Google "sms number spoofing" to see how easy it is to fake. I haven't checked in a long while, but all the sms spam (get rich quick, PPI, accident payouts, etc) on my accounts came from fake numbers. The only time a real number was used it came via a VOIP service from out of country.

        2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

          Re: I'm sorry

          No, I don't think the deceased need, or would use, 999 texts...

          Or did you mean deaf?

          1. Great Bu

            Re: I'm sorry

            No, he was right, it's meant for Death so he can text "PLEASE SEND AN AMBULANCE TO COLLECT THE BODY OF MR. SMITH, WHO'S SOUL I HAVE JUST HARVESTED, THX DTH :)"

  2. JDX Gold badge


    Or use email

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How will they tell the pranksters from the genuine emergencies? it's a bit easier when you have someone's voice to listen to. Obviously some pranksters can control their laughter though.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah, herein lies the rub. I bet the emergency services will have access to the FULL SMS framework data, i.e. originating number plus triangulation. AFAIK, triangulation works worldwide as no telco filters that out when shunting the message through the gateway, so you can be pinged from a foreign telco with a blank SMS and not know you have just been triangulated.

      If you use an SMS provider, they too will have some point of network origin, so I reckon a couple of harsh convictions will sort the pranksters out pretty soon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        so you can be pinged from a foreign telco with a blank SMS and not know you have just been triangulated

        The network you're on presumably knows where you are all the time (subject to triangulation accuracy), but are you saying that other telcos round the world get some sort of receipt for an SMS they send you that enables them to do this?

        1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

          The first, last and only time I was required to phone 999 for a life-threatening emergency (some gang had got a guy on the ground and - toughnuts as they were - 10 of them were kicking him in the head while he was unconscious on the floor), I got put through to a police officer at my local station. They had no clue on location, they had to dig out paper maps to try to manually find the name of the street I was *then* in (which was a safe distance away from the actual incident), and then they had to follow my directions, one-by-one, on the paper map in order to work out where the incident was.

          Embarrassingly, I had a sat nav and could have given them lat/long down to the metre within a few seconds but they didn't have that capability (and nor did they when my ex got snow-logged in her broken-down car on a quiet Scottish road for hours with a baby in the back seat and no help forthcoming from the RAC. That wasn't a 999, because they were okay for a while, they just needed to be rescued at some point. I had to use Google Maps to convert the location I'd been given by my ex to a street name that they could understand - and I could pronounce! - in order to get help to her). I was calling on my mobile for the 999, but they didn't have the facility to triangulate my call (literally, 500m would have done). I had street names to hand, but they didn't even have the facility to search for them, they were looking them up in an index.

          Out in the sticks? Nope, I live inside the M25 in a large town.

          I have to say that, in both cases, the emergency services did a sterling job, despite relying on only basic technology. In the case of the 999, by the time I'd started my car again and got 100m down the road, I heard sirens on the way and got a return call from the officer responding. In the case of the stuck ex, within minutes I got a text that not only had the police arrived to her (taken baby and mother into their car, warmed them up, even brought them a hot drink), but that they were on the phone shouting at the RAC to pull their <censored> finger out and prioritise calls appropriately. Strangely, the RAC then arrived within minutes too.

          Oh, and my ex changed her roadside service as soon as she got to her destination.

          1. MrT

            I thought...

   had to use '112' from a mobile to go through their location services? '999' just gets straight through to the emergency operator, and they get your number regardless of it being hidden, but "112" gets fielded by the network first.

            1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

              Re: I thought...

              112 is a pan-European version that gets through to the same line as 999 in the UK (or whatever equivalent in other countries).

              Some countries, e.g. Italy, it's a bit of a nightmare to work out what's going on (three different police forces, and ambulance and fire all on different numbers) and 112 is merely a way to homogenise that across Europe.

              And it still doesn't account for them not being able to take GPS, or search for streetmaps, or not even have an electronic map.

              1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

                Re: I thought...

                France is the same, separate numbers for police/fire/paramedics. 112 just connects you to the fire brigade, which seems to be the major co-ordinating service (they have paramedics on staff, so make a good first-repsonse choice).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "I reckon a couple of harsh convictions will sort the pranksters out pretty soon."

        You'd think! But 1,000's of hoax/non-emergency calls are received every day (not least because parents think giving their child a mobile/home phone is ok) and nothing seems to happen!

  4. Zmodem

    why dont they just jump on the bandwagon and make a app that does video calls and charge the 99cents, explaining what is the matter in text in detail question after question and then pissing around taking a picture and making a picture message would take 2 hours while you mate has bled to death in the first 5 mins

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Bandwidth. I'm sure it's possible to develop emergency apps that add more data, but SMS can scrape through where voice no longer carries, and that is vital in emergency situations.

      There is one caveat: SMS is a discard service (AFAIK), i.e. the data gets discarded if the cell gets too busy. This use demands a change to that policy, can you imagine the impact if 911 SMS gets thrown out?

      1. leexgx

        but 911 or 999 should get priority (norm if the SMS fails to send you get an message telling you so)

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Zmodem

      video calls are part of the common everyday future, they only have to update the main telecom app and can use a trancoder with ease for incoming calls for them random phones that want to be different

      web n walk costs £5 for 30 days, tmobile wouldnt block 911/999 from 4pm - midnight

  5. Anonymous Coward

    I guess I'm just an old fart, but just exactly what does "Omg hlp nd a dr" mean?

    I get the "Omg" and "hlp" but it loses me after that.

    Anyone care to explain?

    1. Zmodem

      need a doctor, get to the chopper

    2. Ole Juul

      nd a dr

      I'm guessing the lights went out and they're looking for the door. It happens here all the time.

  6. SirDigalot

    you cannot text

    if your thumbs are ripped off.

    "siri...text 911"

    "ok what you you like to say?"


    "ok - sending "help I am getting reaped by a man in my dark ally behind vigina street"

    1. MrT


      "Siri - send text to NG911"

      "I'm sorry but that starship designation does not exist."

  7. jake Silver badge

    So the fucking morons who crash their cars (bikes/boards/skates/walking/whatever) whilst texting ...

    ...might, maybe, get some help a trifle quicker?

    Great. Makes the rest of the gene pool a lot safer over the long-haul. Not.

    When texting, park yourself in a quiet corner, out of the flow of traffic. Problem solved.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      So the fucking morons who crash whilst texting ...

      The SMS of those people will read something incomprehensible like "jkhvhgf" because the airbag will ram the keyboard into their face and leave a nice rectangular imprint (with or without rounded corners).

      This, of course, will trigger an automated accident alarm because it's obvious what just happened.

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge


      .. you reminded me of another category at risk.

      SMS will be a problem for those who suffer an accident while enjoying some nasal matter. They will have to somehow manage with one hand if their operative hand has a finger stuck up a nostril to to the third knuckle because of the airbag going off..

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So the fucking morons who crash their cars whilst texting ...

      Don't get me started on these dumb retards who text and drive, statistics have already shown time and time again that text and driving is way more dangerous then people who talk on the phone and drive and even more dangerous then drink driving!

      Posted as AC due to the dickwads here who will take a strong dislike to this post because they're part of the text-n-drive problem!

  8. nuked

    I wonder whether it would return a read-receipt?

  9. nigel 15

    12 years after the widespread adoption of SMS....'s use is for the first time in decline.

    now the adopt it.

  10. thesykes

    So technology has just managed at last to catch up with Lassie and Skippy

  11. h3

    This will be used for pranking.

    Someone will use it for Malware / Pranks.

    (Maybe in an Android that checks if it is in the US then sends an SMS or something like that).

  12. WraithCadmus
    Black Helicopters

    Don't forget you need to register in the UK

    I found today that registration follows numbers, not handsets. Always try to get people on the service if heading to the hills.

    "Mountain Rescue, party of 2, 1 broken leg @ NY215072, 1 moving SSW to find signal", make sure your phone is set to auto retry, naturally.

    <-- Black helicopters: At that point I wouldn't care what colour the helicopter was

  13. Callam McMillan

    Did you know...

    How long before the emergency services are getting messages "Did you know you can get a refund of up to £3333 for missold PPI..." ?

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      How long?

      about 11 seconds

    2. M7S

      Re: Did you know...

      Some of us have moblies dedicated for emergency call outs and NEVER used for anything else so they shoud not appear on any lists and have never been consented to. I appreciate it is not quite the same thing but close. We've been getting text spammed on these for some time now. Extremely irritating if one is sleeping, or has to pull over when driving (for example) to check if we've an active job to divert to.

  14. Don Jefe


    I get SMS messages on my Verizon sometimes that have obviously false numbers. If I text them back from another phone I get a delivery unsuccessful message.

    How will emergency services deal with that? Do they have access to some kind of anti Spam tech we don't know about?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Marketing

      They have access to the calling party's network ID so they will have the offenders details to send the police round to feel them up, wherever it's a prankcall or a double glazing salesman sending a sales text message.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apparently for those...

    ...who don't know how to dial 9-1-1...

  16. mrfill


    It may be mandatory for phone companies to have a 999 text service but it is not universal and the publicity it has received has been underwhelming. For users, it is optional as you have to register before use and any time you change your mobile number.

    As at 31 May 2012, 32000 people were registered according to emergencySMS. I hope it doesn't take them as long to respond as it does to update their figures.

    Between 30th June and 28th Sept 2012 they received 18000 messages.

  17. Richard Cranium

    UK emergency SMS

    Register here first: although originally for the deaf it's OK for others to sign up too.

    Try a voice call first but in poor signal areas SMS will retry till it gets through, I believe it only needs 50 milliseconds of connection time.

    Message should be along the lines of:

    "ambulance. Hiker has broken leg. Madwomans stones, Kinder Scout SK137880, moving casualty towards Jaggers Clough and Haggwater Bridge A57”' - That fits into 140 characters.

    The message should indicate what service is needed, nature/severity of problem, location expressed in more than one format (i.e. map grid ref and named landmarks) and anything else relevant (as in this example, casualty is being moved and in what direction).

    As you cannot confirm the message has been received you should continue self rescue efforts. Taking the phone to a higher location might help to get a connection.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Re: UK emergency SMS

      Issues here

      Found a suspect car down a lane, reported to non emergency, gave them the location, no use to them.

      The location was the full OS grid reference, they needed road name, road name not on OS map.

      They didn't even have a proper map!

  18. MJI Silver badge

    What about other models?

    So what do Boxster and Cayenne drivers dial?

    1. MrT

      Re: What about other models?


      But it'll only work on Vertos handsets. On regular Nokias it's 356.

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