Now, residents of Fairfax County, Virginia can text 911 -- as well as call -- in an emergency.
Fairfax County officials announced text to 911 capabilities Tuesday. The technology is critical for those who are in an emergency where they cannot call or speak, including in cases of abuse and kidnapping.
Texting can also help when cell service is not available but texting is possible. Fairfax County Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity first suggested texting to 911 in September 2011, after a major storm in Northern Virginia and an earthquake in Mineral. Cell service was unavailable, but citizens were able to send texts, which were not received.
Although there are more than 6,500 911 call centers in the U.S., less than 5 percent are equipped with the technology to handle 911 texts, according to the FCC. Fairfax County is the first in the D.C. area to accept texts to 911.
There is one reason, though, that calling 911 may be preferable: 911 call centers receive an address automatically when someone places a call -- information that is not automated for text .
Authorities suggest turning location services on, or texting an accurate address quickly, when texting 911.