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At this very moment, I'm out in the woods typing away on my laptop. I have an internet connection, and my phone can use that connection to send text messages, but I have no voice phone service.

How can I contact emergency services from here?

I'm in the United States (San Jose, specifically¹), so normally I'd call 911. Currently the local 911 service doesn't support text messaging.


¹ More specifically, I'm in a cabin in the mountains just outside San Jose, 20 minutes drive from the nearest hospital. There are a surprising number of places in these mountains where you can find a wi-fi signal being broadcast from some hidden cabin, but very few places where you can get a cell phone signal.

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  • 3
    Can you use Skype or Google Voice to call them over the internet? There should be services available for texting or similar. After all how could a deaf/mute person contact emergency services normally? Apr 24 '14 at 7:20
  • 1
    I had to... youtube.com/watch?v=1EBfxjSFAxQ I guess They don't have email either.
    – HTDutchy
    Apr 24 '14 at 9:55
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    Skype, in particular, doesn't allow you to call 911. support.skype.com/en/faq/FA29/…
    – Joe
    Apr 24 '14 at 19:06
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    Deaf people normally are expected to use a "teletypewriter" (basically a phone with a keyboard) to call 911 via a regular phone connection. 911.gov/911-issues/serving.html
    – Joe
    Apr 24 '14 at 19:07
  • Some countries have their own apps. Simply press the button and emergency services will rescue you. I don't know about US so I just add this as a comment, see alpify.com
    – QuentinUK
    Apr 26 '14 at 3:45
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Almost every emergency dispatch center has a non-emergency phone number. While services like Skype and Google Voice can't call 911 directly, you can look up "<region> non-emergency dispatch" and get a number with a local area code. Call them and tell them this is an emergency but you couldn't access 911. They will transfer you to an emergency dispatcher. If you're in a National Park or on other federal lands you can typically call the park headquarters and again ask to be transferred to emergency dispatch.

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  • Wouldn't have thought of aspect - though one thing to keep in mind is that those numbers may not always be monitored 24/7. Most will and are, though. +1!
    – studiohack
    May 5 '14 at 5:06
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    @studiohack in most cases the non-emergency number will go to the same dispatcher as 911, but with a lower priority. In the case of national parks, etc. that might be less likely, but you could probably still find a number for dispatch if you look hard enough.
    – nhinkle
    May 5 '14 at 5:54
  • The non-emergency phone number for the emergency dispatch center here is only available 8-5, Mon-Fri. Otherwise, this would be a perfect answer.
    – Joe
    Nov 13 '14 at 23:21
  • @Joe that's unfortunate. Everywhere I've been there's a 24 hour number but that's a good thing to keep in mind.
    – nhinkle
    Nov 14 '14 at 0:26
  • To be clear, you should state that Skype and Google Voice can call US telephone numbers. Otherwise, it does not appear to answer the question.
    – Martin F
    May 12 at 19:16
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All 4 major carriers have either implemented or are implementing text-to-911 service.
U.S. mobile providers commit to emergency texting service

In the event that this doesn't work, you can always text a friend or family member. They can then call 911 for you. If they are in a different area, then they will be transferred to the correct area.

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  • At the moment, the only carrier supporting text-to-911 in California is Verizon, and only in Los Angeles. transition.fcc.gov/cgb/text-to-911-deployments.pdf (pdf link)
    – Joe
    Apr 24 '14 at 20:20
  • There are two obstacles to text-to-911: the cell phone carriers supporting it, and the local 911 call centers supporting it. The phone carriers have agreed to support it but the local call centers have the option to upgrade or not.
    – Joe
    Apr 24 '14 at 22:49
  • In some countries, text messages can be used to contact emergency services. In the UK, text messages can be used to call emergency services only after registering with the emergency SMS service. This service is primarily aimed at people who, by reason of disability, are unable to make a voice call. It has recently been promoted as a means for walkers and climbers to call emergency services from areas where a voice call is not possible due to low signal strength. (wiki) Apr 25 '14 at 0:58
  • Where it texting emergency services isn't an option, you'll have to use my other suggestion of texting a 3rd party. Apr 25 '14 at 1:15
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If you have a VoIP-account and are able to use it from your mobile-phone you should be able to use it for calling emergency service. Note that with VoIP I don´t mean Skype but a real SIP). You can find out about this contacting your VoIP-service provider.

If you are staying some time in the same area it can be worth calling directly at the local hospital or police department and ask if they can provide you with call-through numbers to their emergency service. You should be able to find their number on the internet. You can then use any internet call service to call these numbers, e. g. Skype (make sure you have enough credit for calling!).

I would refrain from using texting services like suggested by @TomCollins via Internet. Thats because there is no reason why VoIP should not be allowed but texting via internet would be. You can´t use Skype because they wouldn´t know where you are - I would guess you can´t use WhatsApp for the same reason, even if there is text-to-911 service.

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Even Google voice has to call your phone to connect a voice call, thereby requiring a signal.

If you really are anticipating the need to contact emergency services without cellphone reception, look into purchasing an inReach http://www.inreachdelorme.com/why-inreach/

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    Devices like inReach and Spot are IMO more about entertainment than safety. A PLB is both cheaper and more useful in an emergency.
    – user2169
    Apr 24 '14 at 22:03
  • I wouldn't disagree. A Satellite messenger is certainly more casual than a PLB. I just don't picture a 20 minute drive from the hospital to be a PLB scenario. Apr 25 '14 at 1:00
  • You can use google voice through gmail without the need to use your cell phone.
    – DudeOnRock
    Apr 28 '14 at 7:53
  • @BenCrowell While a PLB is certainly cheaper I don't see how it's more useful. In it's most basic mode an inReach acts like a PLB! I have never been in a situation where either was needed, but I am aware of a local incident in which someone having an inReach might have saved a life. (Witnessed cardiac arrest--immediate CPR but it was 60 minutes before EMS was on scene. Someone had to run quite a distance to get service. A PLB would have avoided that run--but the response would have been on foot, probably taking just as long. An inReach would likely have brought a chopper.) May 14 at 3:43
  • @BenCrowell And, unrelated to the question there is a second value to the inReach or the like--tracking points. If I was solo and got hurt badly enough that I couldn't call for help S&R would only know where I intended to be. With my inReach they would likely know exactly where I was and certainly know to within a fraction of a mile--and they would almost certainly know I was actually down and not just delayed. May 14 at 3:50

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