Text-to-911 is NOT a method of convenience. The service is intended to benefit people who may not be able to speak or hear in an emergency. A voice call is still the preferred and most efficient method for contacting 911. Simply stated, call if you can, text if you can’t.
Text 911 if you need EMERGENCY police, fire or medical aid AND you are Deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disabled OR you cannot speak due to a medical emergency OR when a voice call might endanger your life or escalate the situation.
How to send a text to 911
- Open your mobile phone’s text messaging program.
- Enter the numbers 911 in the “To” field.
- Type a message with the location of the emergency (including city) and the nature of the emergency (what is happening and whether you need police, fire or medical aid).
- Press the “Send” button or arrow.
Be sure to keep your phone with you and be prepared to answer questions and follow instructions from the 911 call taker. If you are trying not to be overheard requesting help, remember to silence your phone!
Things to remember
- Keep text messages brief.
- Do NOT send photos or video, or use group texts, abbreviations or emojis.
- Text-to-911 is only available in English.
- Photos and videos cannot be received at this time.
- South Sound 911 does not control text delivery from mobile carriers or devices.
- There may be instances when a voice call cannot connect due to poor cellular signal or other phone service interruption, but a text message can still go through.
- A text sent to 911 in an area without text-to-911 service should receive an automatic reply stating the service is not available.
For more information about text-to-911, including where in Washington the service is available, visit the state Emergency Management Division.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I text 911?
Yes – in an emergency, and when you cannot place a voice call to 911, you may text 911 in Pierce County.
To see where else in Washington text-to-911 is available, visit the Washington State Emergency Management Division website.
Can I send a text to 911 from any mobile device?
No. The mobile device you text from requires a mobile phone number with a wireless carrier which allows the device to send and receive text messages.
Can I send a 911 text message in Spanish or another language?
No. At this time, 911 is only available in English.
May I include photos or video in my text message?
No. Photos and video cannot be received at this time.
Can I include others in a text to 911 (i.e., a group text)?
No. Messages sent to 911 cannot include others recipients. If you attempt to text 911 on a group text, it may not be received.
What happens if I do not receive a reply from 911?
If text-to-911 service is unavailable, even temporarily, you should receive a message indicating it is not available with instructions to contact 911 by other means. If you do not receive any replies from 911, try to contact 911 another way (place a voice call, use TTY/relay, try a different device or landline).
What if I accidentally send a text to 911?
If you accidentally send a text to 911, please send a reply stating that it was a mistake and that there is no emergency.
Why do I have to provide my location? Can’t 911 track my cell phone by GPS?
Text-to-911 location information is obtained from the cellular carrier’s location data for the purpose of routing the message to the nearest 911 center, and it may not be exact enough for first responders to find you. For all 911 calls or text messages, “callers” must provide their exact location information — including apartment, lot, building, space, unit, or suite number, or mile marker.
Are texts to 911 quicker than a call?
No. Voice calls are still the preferred method for contacting 911.
While South Sound 911 processes text messages in the same manner as voice calls to 911, texts are not as efficient as voice calls. Call takers cannot hear background noise to better ascertain the situation, and there are inherent delays when sending or receiving text replies.
Remember, call if you can, text if you can’t.
Where can the deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, and speech disabled learn more about text-to-911?
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) helped produce these great videos: