We asked thousands of people nationwide if they would call or text 911. Here’s what they said.

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Some 16 percent of millennials would text 911 instead of call if either option was appropriate in the situation, according to a recent study conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of NICE.

The results show what you might expect – millennials are the most comfortable texting 911, with older demographics willing to text, but in fewer and fewer numbers as their age rises. While 7 percent of 35-44 year olds would choose texting, just 3 percent of 45-54 year olds, 2 percent of 55-64 year olds, and 1 percent of those 65 and older would do the same.

But the difference in demographics shows the direction of the future. Millennials recently eclipsed Baby Boomers as the U.S.’s largest age group, numbering 83.1 million and counting. That growth shows the potential for expansion and adoption of texting emergency services, not even considering up-and-coming mobile-native Generation Z​.​

And as the population shift likely drives adoption of text-to-911, infrastructure is keeping pace with technology preferences. All the major wireless carriers now provide text-to-911 services to their subscribers, and more than 500 PSAPs are now able to receive them, up from 121 just a year and a half ago.​​​ A recent poll of PSAP attendees at one of our webinars showed that nearly three-quarters (72 percent) had either implemented text-to-911 or were planning to, which demonstrates that PSAPs are also upgrading technology to meet the expected demand.

Citing growing adoption of text-to-911, the FCC commissioners recently voted to propose rules that would replace cumbersome legacy text-telephone (TTY) devices with real-time text (RTT) technology, beginning in December 2017. TTY has been in place for decades for the hearing and speech impaired, but it’s no match for modern smartphones. RTT allows for real-time communications, enabling both parties to text at once, as well as mass adoption since it’s available on off-the-shelf devices. This development further underscores the drive toward more mainstream text-to-911 services.

In areas that now have text-to-911, the number of texts received continues to grow with awareness of the service. In one New York county, texts to 911 in one month grew to 175—adding to a total of 1,200 over just eight months. And while that’s a small slice of the county’s total requests for help in 2015, which numbered more than 650,000, it’s a percentage that will likely increase as the population shifts, awareness grows, and new modes of communication dominate.

Every day, there are more stories that illustrate how text-to-911 can save lives. Two kids recently texted 911 from the backseat to report their dad for drunk driving. A deaf woman helped rescue two children locked in a car. ​ Another woman reported her own kidnapping. There are also cases of domestic violence ​ where calling 911 simply isn’t viable.

So whether you’re 18 or 68, it’s important to have options. And as more PSAPs implement the technology to receive 911 texts, and public interest increases, the volume of texts to 911 will continue to grow.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of NICE from April 11-13, 2016 among 2,109 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Linda Haelsen at linda.haelsen@nice.com.

 

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