NEW YORK - We're trained to call 911 in the event of an emergency, but now you can text 911 for help in more than 350 different cities across 25 states.
"It can be an appropriate lifeline if someone is in a dangerous situation where they can't communicate verbally, maybe there's a burglar in their house of something of that nature," said John Merklinger, the director of the 911 Center of Monroe County in upstate New York.
Monroe County implemented the 911 text system two years ago. In that time, Merklinger says it has mostly been used by members of the deaf community, but has also been used in situations where the person didn't want anyone to know he or she was contacting authorities.
"One example locally would be we had a person witnessing a drug transaction, they were worried the transaction was going bad and one person would shoot another, so they texted 911 with the information and we were able to dispatch the police and get them over there," Merklinger said.
You still can't text to 911 in New York City, at least not yet. But some lawmakers want to make it a reality. City Councilmembers Mark Levine and Laurie Cumbo have introduced legislation requiring the city to come up with a plan for so-called "next generation 911" within a year.
Mark Fletcher, the chief architect for World Wide Public Safety Solutions at telecommunications company Avaya, said it will take some work.
"Right now 911 is built for phone calls, that's the way it was built in 1968 and that's how it remains today," Fletcher said. "It does phone calls, it doesn't do anything else, so this is new technology on top."
The mayor's office wouldn't provide details on whether plans for text to 911 are already in the works, but sent us a statement saying: "We look forward to discussing with the city council future technology upgrades and enhancements to increase the number of ways New Yorkers can communicate with the City's emergency 911 system."
But while sending a text may seem more convenient for people who rarely use the call functions on their smart phones, officials warn texting should only be used when dialing 911 is not an option.
"It takes a little longer to text back and forth, especially when you're limited on characters, versus actually making the phone call and talking so the first thing we do when we receive a text is we encourage people if they can to call us directly," Merklinger said.
Fletcher added, "It's not a replacement for calling 911, it's additional information it's an add on technology that's utilized in very special circumstances."
The ability to send a text could turn out to be the iceberg. Eventually next generation 911 call centers will allow people to send in pictures or even videos from the scene of an emergency, Fletcher said.