Major U.S. mobile phone carriers began offering 911 texting service this month to any local government that wants and can use it.
Sprint, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T voluntarily committed to offer the service by May 15, Associated Press reports. Local governments in 16 states are already using the technology, and Vermont became the first to use 911 texting statewide on May 19.
"This is a big deal," Brian Fontes, the chief executive officer of the Virginia-based National Emergency Number Association, said, according to Associated Press. "It's been a long time since our nation's 911 systems have been advanced. They are pretty much still almost 100 percent voice-centric, 1960s technology."
The current 911 texting service currently applies only to texting, but there are plans to eventually extend it to photos and video.
"In today's technology world where you and I and other people have smartphones that can do many different things simultaneously, it's important that we have the opportunity to ensure that our nation's 911 centers are equally equipped with technology," Fontes said, according to Associated Press.
The number of people texting 911 is still significantly less than those who make traditional phone calls. Vermont has received 34 legitimate texts since it began using the system, compared to 208,000 voice calls last year, Associated Press reports.