How to text 911 for help in an emergency

What you need to know to help yourself.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

Text 911 when you need help but can't make any noise. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Calling 911 is the best way to reach out for help in an emergency situation, but if you can't call or talk, you might be able to text. In 2014, police stations across America began rolling out Text-to-911, a program that lets people in trouble send a message in place of a call. 

Whether you can't make any noise because you don't want to be discovered by an intruder, have a disability that prevents communicating with the operator or have poor cell reception and can't get a voice call out, Text-to-911 is an important tool to keep in mind. 

Here's what you need to know if you ever have to text 911 for help. It's one of many ways your phone can literally save your life

Watch this: Are you okay with Apple sharing your location with 911?

What is Text-to-911?

Text-to-911 allows you to send a text message, just like the ones you use to talk to friends and loved ones, to your local emergency responders. 

Do I need to do anything special to send a text to 911?

No. You simply need to create a new text message in your phone's messaging app, enter 911 as the recipient, type your message and press send. 

Should I text a photo of the situation around me?

No. The messaging systems that operators use aren't like our phones , and can't receive group messages, photos, or videos. To make sure the operator will understand your message, don't use emoji or any shorthand abbreviations. Spell everything out. 

Does Text-to-911 work where I live? 

The FCC keeps track of the various jurisdictions throughout the US that work with Text-to-911 in a list that is updated once a month, and is available as an Excel spreadsheet -- so it's searchable and you can find your city or county with just a few clicks. 


Make sure to be as clear as possible about what's going on when you text 911. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What kind of information should I include when texting the police?

With the operator relying solely on what you send in the text message, try to include as much information as possible in your first message. Some operators will receive your location with the first text message, while other operators may not get that information, depending on their equipment. 

For that reason, it's a good idea to include your location along with any nearby intersections and the name of the building, park or business that you're at. Additionally, say what the situation is, if anyone is hurt, if there are any weapons, and so on. 

Try to include as much information as possible in a single message to save time and to keep from having to repeatedly light up your phone's screen in a situation where you're trying to hide. 

An example of a useful text message would be: "Help, someone broke in my house at 123 main street. I'm hiding in the closet upstairs, can't talk on the phone."

According to the Pueblo County Sheriffs Office, it's not uncommon for emergency operators to respond to the first text message they receive asking for the person to call if it's at all possible. Including the fact that you can't make a voice call in your first message could eliminate extra messages between you and the operator, saving valuable time. 

What happens if your message isn't delivered?

If you're in an area where Text-to-911 isn't available, you'll receive a bounce-back message letting you know that you need to call 911. Depending on the situation, if you have time, send a message to 911 and to a backup emergency contact in case Text-to-911 isn't available. Your contact may be able to reach authorities for you. 

How do I find out more about Text-to-911 where I live?

If you have more questions, the FCC is a great resource for more information about Text-to-911, or you can try searching for your city or county's name with "text to 911" in the query (Ex., "El Paso County text to 911") to see if your local authorities have any best practices of their own.

As always, try to remain calm and aware in your surroundings, and make safety your top priority.

The best features in iOS 13 and iPadOS public beta

See all photos