Cell phone carriers allow users to text 911

Written By Ashley Kolumban

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon customers in Allegheny County can now text 911 when in emergency situations.
                                                                                                                                         photo by Ty Smith

Calling for help is never easy, especially if you are in an emergency situation where speaking is impossible or potentially life-threatening. With technological advances in cell phones, dialing, or rather, typing 911 has never been easier.

Allegheny AT&T customers now have the ability to text 911 in the event of an emergency if the dialer is in a situation where they cannot or are unable to speak. 

“I’d probably still just go with calling, but I think that it’s a good option to have either way,” senior Victoria Blackburn said as sirens echoed through Village Park.

 Each text message has a limit of 160 characters and it must include the location of the customer along with the situation, according to an Allegheny County press release. The response time of dispatchers receiving the emergency text has students weary of silently calling for help.

“I think that it’s kind of impractical because I feel like you don’t have the time in an emergency situation to actually type letters,” said 21 year-old Christine Schell. “I think that it’s so much quicker and faster if you could just push the emergency button on your phone than texting.”

The press release states that the customers must be in range of the cell phone towers within the Allegheny area in order to have their messages reach the county’s Communication Center.

“I guess it would just depend on how quick they are at responding to texts. It might be faster just to call someone,” Blackburn said. 

Although cell phones are an essential accessory for almost everyone, not all users are text savvy and the added feature will only appeal to a distinct demographic. 

“I think only kids ages 16 to late 20’s would be the ones to use it because I know my mom… probably wouldn’t text ‘help’ to 911,” Schell said. “She would call. That would be her first response.”

 Freshman Cyber Forensics major Alek Schaffer thinks the new addition to emergency dialing is practical and obvious for today’s modern society.

“Everybody texts. Nobody calls anymore,” Schaffer said. “Everybody’s on their phone, [so] obviously I’m going to text 911 to help me.”

While AT&T is the most recent cellphone carrier to enable its customers the ability to text 911, other carriers who also offer this service include Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.

There have been 162 texts to 911 sent to the Communication Center in Allegheny to date. 

Many people have easy access to their phones if they are not already in their hands in an emergency situation. This led to the creation of the SafeTrek app, another silent call for help.

The user holds down on a large button on the screen when they feel uneasy or in a threatening situation while walking. When they lift their finger, it prompts them to enter a pin number if they feel safe. If the phone is dropped and/or no pin is entered, the police are sent to the location. 

The application was designed by three college students in Missouri and was released in October 2013. It is available for $1.99 in app stores and is compatible for both Apple and Android phones.