Emergency Text Messaging

Whether you’re texting or talking, it is important to be aware of new developments in text messaging technology for disaster situations. Hurricane Katrina and the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting have prompted discussions about text messaging as a primary means of emergency notification, especially on college campuses.

Currently more than 230 million Americans use cell phones, according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). Studies have also shown that cell phone and text message use is on the rise: already 20% of American households use cell phones instead of landlines.

The U.S. Department of Education requires colleges and universities to have the means to reach their students in a timely manner in times of crisis. Many colleges currently use e-mail as their primary form of emergency notification, since every student is given a college e-mail account. However, this becomes a problem in a crisis if computers are down or students are out of their dorm and not able to check e-mail. Text messaging has recently emerged as an option on college campuses, as the majority of college students are rarely without cell phones.

Colleges such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., and Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. already have emergency text messaging warning systems in place to notify students for class cancellations due to severe weather. Companies such as Starbucks and Honeywell also have similar wireless text systems in place to notify employees and provide them with instructions during fires or natural disasters.

If you are a cell phone subscriber, investigate the options at your home, workplace, or college campus for emergency text notifications. The CTIA already offers some emergency notification services through their website, such as Wireless AMBER Alerts for missing children.


Get a “cell-phone-free plan B” so your cell is not your only means of communication during a disaster. While cell phones can be a great for communicating in emergencies, have a backup plan in case your cell phone is not at hand..

WHN TIP: Capabilities?

Cell phones have certain limitations that may inhibit communication during disasters. For example, some do not have text messaging capabilities—and if you call 911 on your cell phone, your address won’t appear to dispatchers (as it would if you called from a landline in your home). For more information, check out our fast tips on using the phone during emergencies.

Updated 5/2009