The FCC is calling it "next generation 911" and it starts this spring in Tennessee. AT&T will launch a trial, allowing people to text 911 for help instead of placing phone calls.
Ray Chiozza, Director of Shelby County's 911 system, says the state invited all 911 districts to take part in the test-run on a volunteer basis. He says Shelby County stepped up to the plate, recognizing the potential to save more of its residents with the new service.
"Any situation where you wouldn't want to be talking or if someone was in your house, you could try that," says Chiozza. "It's also going to be a great advantage for the hearing impaired community. They're desperately wanting their smart phones to be able to communicate and send text messages to 911."
Memphian Syvlia Mitchell says she's all for new text-to-911, "In some situations it will be beneficial because if you're in a place where you can't talk, you can let emergency services know you need support."
Students and witnesses on campus in 2007 during the Virginia Tech shooting were in that very situation. Many of them reached out to 911 via text but the service wasn't available at that time. The FCC used Virginia Tech as motivation to add the text-for-help option.
Still, some people are concerned the new service could bog down the 911 system.
One Facebook commenter posted, "I'm not a proponent of texting 911. It will be one more thing that will burden 911 operators aside from the bad overload of disconnected cell phones."
But Chiozza says the system should not get overloaded by adding text-to-911, "They've had about 3-4 trials in different parts of the country over the last year or two and most of the trials have proven, not many calls come in."
Once the new text-to-911 trial starts, you should still always call 911 if you can. Use a text only if you have to, and make sure you include your location and what's wrong.