Verizon Wireless customers in Maine can now send a short message service text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call.

This service will be available to any Verizon Wireless customer within range of a Maine Verizon Wireless cell tower.

Text to 911 is intended primarily for use in two emergency scenarios: for those individuals who are hearing impaired and for those unable to make a voice call, for example during a medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech, or in the instance of a home invasion or abduction.

“The safety of residents and visitors in Maine is our number one concern. Text to 911 could be a lifesaver, especially for people who might otherwise not be able to make a voice call. I congratulate my team members and the Public Utilities Commission for their work in establishing this service and for setting an example for other public safety professionals,” said John Morris, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, in a news release.

“Verizon Wireless has been at the forefront of working with public safety stakeholders to bring text to 911 to our customers,” said Richard Craig, director of engineering for Verizon Wireless. “The SMS911 National Gateway enables us to bring reliable emergency communications to PSAPs across the country. We were proud to work alongside the team in Maine and TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS), to deploy this new solution.” The deployment in Maine follows the recent announcement earlier this year from Verizon Wireless and TCS to make available a national text to 911 solutions.

Verizon Wireless customers in Maine should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911:

— Customers should use the texting option only when making a voice call to 911 is not an option.

— Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency. It will probably take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text to 911 situation in Maine because of the time involved: someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and must be processed by the 911 telecommunicator’s TTY equipment, and the telecommunicator must then read the text and then text back through the TTY equipment.

— Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the DPS Communications Center will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.

— Customers must be in range of Verizon cell towers in Maine. If customers are outside or near the edge of the state, the message may not reach a Maine DPS Communications Center.

— Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.

— Verizon Wireless customers who use Usage Controls should remove this feature to ensure full text to 911 capability.

— Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages.

— The solution is available for customers who use the SMS provided by Verizon Wireless. It is not available for third-party text messaging applications that can be downloaded to the phone or for applications that do not use SMS technology.

— The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. SMS911 should only be to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, other attachments or other recipients appended to the message.