California 911 centers beginning next week can apply to provide text-to-911 service through the nation's four leading wireless carriers.
The program was designed with the deaf and speech impaired community in mind, but will provide everyone with another way of getting emergency help, officials said.
"Let's say someone is following me and I might not want to call police because he might hear me say it," said Natosha Edmonds, a Redwood City resident. "I might be more inclined to use the text message system."
Officials said it may take years for text 911 services to be available throughout the state because emergency centers currently do not have the hardware to support the system. In addition, purchasing and installing the hardware may cost the state billions of dollars, authorities said.
Until then, several interim solutions will be used.
One temporary fix is an IP web-based network that would convert text messages to allow dispatchers to converse back-and-forth with the sender.
Another interim solution would use existing TDD or telephonic deaf device equipment to convert a message and have the text conversation integrated into the system.