Text-to-9-1-1: FAQs

In an emergency, we always want you to call 9-1-1, but for those instances when you’re unable to call, you can now send a text to our Emergency Communications Center (our 9-1-1 center). You can read our main Text-to-9-1-1 webpage and view the FAQs below.

Text to 9-1-1 graphic

When should I Text 9-1-1?

  • Text-to-9-1-1 is intended for three emergency scenarios:
    • An individual who is deaf, hard-of-hearing or has a speech disability.
    • Someone who is in a situation where it is not safe to place a voice call to 9-1-1
    • A medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech.
  • ONLY text 9-1-1 in an emergency.
    • Prank-texters can be identified and possibly prosecuted according to local laws/regulations.

How do I text-to-9-1-1?

  • Enter the numbers “911” in the “To” or “Recipient” field.
  • The first text-to-9-1-1 should be short, include the location of the emergency, and ask for police, fire or ambulance.
  • Push the “Send” button.
  • Answer questions and follow instructions from the 9-1-1 call-taker.
  • Text in simple words – no abbreviations or slang.
  • Keep text messages short.

More Information and FAQs

What is “Text-to-9-1-1” technology?

  • Text-to-9-1-1 is the ability to send a text message to 9-1-1 from your mobile phone or handheld device.

Can I Text-to-9-1-1?

  • You must subscribe to your wireless carrier’s text or data plan in order to make or receive text messages.
  • If Text-to-9-1-1 is not available in your area, or is temporarily unavailable, you should receive a message indicating that Text-to-9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by other means.
  • Arlington County will also be able to process Text-to-9-1-1 calls originating in the City of Falls Church.

What are the challenges with Text-to-9-1-1 service?

  • As with all text messages, Text-to-9-1-1 may take longer to receive and respond to than a voice call, does not provide the location of the texter and could be received out of order, or may not be received at all.
  • Text GPS location information is not equal to current wireless location technology.
  • Pictures or videos cannot be received by 9-1-1 at this time.
  • If you include anyone else on your Text-to-9-1-1 it may not be received by 9-1-1.
  • At this time translation services for Text-to-9-1-1 are not available; please text in English only.

How will I know if 9-1-1 received my text?

  • A 9-1-1 call center should respond to the text.
  • If Text-to-9-1-1 is not available, you should receive a message from the wireless carrier stating that Text-to-9-1-1 is not available and that you must place a voice or relay call to 9-1-1.

Is there a charge to Text-to-9-1-1?

  • Standard text messaging rates apply.

When will I be able to Text–to-9-1-1 from all cell carriers?

  • Text-to-9-1-1 will be launched in Arlington County on February 29, 2016. Other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, and some in the National Capital Region, are also planning to launch Text-to-9-1-1 service. Fairfax County already has the text to 9-1-1 capability.

Can I text-to-9-1-1 in languages other than English?

  • The preferred language for texting to 9-1-1 is English.
  • Translation services are not available at this time and any text-to-9-1-1 call placed in Arlington County should be in English.

More info

The following messaging, created by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) NG9-1-1 Education and Training Working Group, addresses the unique issues presented by the Interim SMS text-to-9-1-1 solution:

  • The location information accompanying a Text-to-9-1-1 call is not equal to wireless voice call location technology.
  • As with all text messages, 9-1-1 text messages can take longer to receive, may be delivered out of order, or may not be received at all.
  • Text-to-9-1-1 is not available if you are in a “roaming” situation.
  • A text or data plan is required to place a text-to-9-1-1.
  • If texting to 9-1-1 is not available in your area, or is temporarily unavailable, you will receive a message indicating that texting 9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by other means.
  • Photos and videos cannot be sent to 9-1-1 at this time.
  • Text-to-9-1-1 cannot include more than one person. Do not copy your emergency text to anyone other than 9-1-1. Wait until you are safe to notify others of your situation.
  • Do not text and drive!