Verizon Working on SMS-to-911 Service

By early next year, the nation will have a new way to call for help--via text message. Verizon Wireless announced that it’s working on a service to provide SMS-to-911 capabilities, which it says will be operational in early 2013. Simply put, the emergency service will allow anyone to send an SMS message to a 911 call center, also known as a public-service answering point (PSAP) via Verizon’s existing CDMA network.

This week, the company announced that it has selected a vendor partner in the endeavor: Annapolis, Maryland-based TeleCommunication Systems Inc. The FCC and other federal and state agencies are on board the project, as well.

"TeleCommunication Systems has worked closely with the FCC over the past two years to develop its innovative technology for SMS to 911. As the preeminent U.S. supplier of SMS and pioneer in wireless E911, TCS is well positioned to enable Verizon in advancing its public safety commitment," said TCS president and CEO Maurice B. Tosé in the press release.

Image credit:

The usefulness of an emergency text service is obvious; one can imagine myriad situations in which calling 911 and speaking on the phone is impossible or could put the caller in serious danger. If a phone’s battery is low or reception is poor, for example, a text message may just save the day, and the hard of hearing will have a much more efficient way of requesting emergency help, too. The UK already has a similar system in place called emergencySMS, although users need to register their phones to enable the service.

The downside? For now, at least, the service appears to be limited to “Verizon Wireless customers who have a text-capable phone and a service plan that includes text messaging”, according to the press release, so nerts to customers of Sprint, AT&T, et al.

We would hope that other carriers could add SMS-to-911 service, too, especially considering that public funds already pay for the emergency services we rely on. It seems as though subsidizing a service that could help save many lives is worth it.