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Some cell phone users will soon be able to send text messages to 911, in a service that will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Verizon Wireless announced it's set to launch a text-to-911 service in select areas of the country later this year, Phoenix's KPHO-TV reports. "It's a new way for people to communicate in times of need," a Verizon spokesman said.
It may be new in America, but the UK already has such a system, called EmergencySMS. Registered cell phone users can send texts to a call center, which relays the message to the appropriate agency, the website VentureBeat reports.
Verizon's text-to-911 service will be similar, allowing customers to send text messages to a nearby emergency dispatch call center, PC Magazine reports.
The new service partly answers the Federal Communications Commission's call for "Next Generation 911," a push to upgrade and bring 911 services into the digital age. The FCC's "Next Generation" vision goes beyond text-to-911 and foresees the use of mobile videos and photos to provide even more information to first responders before they arrive at the scene, according to PC Magazine.
Technical details are still being worked out, but Verizon is touting the benefits of text-to-911 for hearing-impaired customers, and even younger cell phone users who prefer texting over voice calls.
Texting is also generally much quicker than making a voice call to 911. The average length of a 911 call is 70 seconds, the Verizon spokesman told KPHO.
A text-to-911 service could also help in situations where making a phone call could be dangerous -- for example, the Connecticut woman who was recently rescued from a kidnapper after she texted her location to her boyfriend, who then called police. If 911 texting had been in place, the woman could've sent texts directly to law enforcement.