People use their cellphones for much more than phone calls. Yet in Florida, it remains impossible to text 911 for help. That should change soon in Pinellas and elsewhere as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to require all cellphone carriers to offer a text-to-911 service. It's wise for counties in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida to adopt a statewide emergency texting 911 service. It is particularly important in cases in which it's difficult to call 911, such as in domestic violence situations.
Four major cellphone companies — Sprint, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T — announced this week that they are providing emergency texting service to local governments that want it. These companies are moving ahead of the FCC requirement that all providers offer the service by the end of the year. The way it works is simple: Emergency dispatchers respond by text to locate the person seeking help, get information about the situation and provide instructions until responders arrive.
Local governments in 16 states now allow residents to text 911 for help, and implementing this service across Florida and the nation only makes sense. Text-to-911 is particularly advantageous for young adults who are more inclined to send a text than make a phone call. According to the Pew Research Center, cellphone owners between age 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 texts a day, or more than 3,200 texts per month. And it's not just teenagers who like to text. Pew also reported that a third of U.S. adults prefer texting to talking on the phone. Those who are more comfortable texting for help should be able to do it.
About 80 percent of the calls that come in to the Pinellas Emergency Call center are made on a cellphone, and Pinellas and Palm Beach counties have announced that text-to-911 will be available early next year. Other counties should follow suit. When people need help, there should be as many options as possible to get it. Texting to 911 is the next logical step.