It’s a cornerstone of modern-day law enforcement: If there is trouble, we all share in the solace of knowing a 911 operator is just a call away. They’re our lifeline in times of trouble, our connection to the professionals that will be there to help. But in the evolving age of digital communications, you may be wondering: Can you text 911?
The answer is not so black and white. Keep reading to learn more about this new feature and 30 other essential personal safety tips that could someday save a life.
Can you text 911?
The short answer is yes and no—and it’s changing every day. Some areas of the U.S. do offer the option to text 911. And the service will likely spread in the future. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) encourages emergency call centers to begin accepting 911 texts, provided they are technically capable of doing so. But because not everywhere in the U.S. has 911 texting capabilities, it is still recommended that those in need of emergency services call 911.
If someone texts 911 and the service is not available in their region, they will receive a bounce-back message instructing them to call 911. The FCC has a registry of all counties in which one can text 911 that is updated monthly. You can view it here to see if this service is available to you.
Keep reading to learn more personal safety tips from safety and security experts, self-defense pros and people just like you. You never know, these could someday spare you an emergency situation and a call to 911—or even save your life.
30 Personal safety tips for protecting yourself
If you’re out and about...
1. Don’t distract yourself with your phone while walking at night
“I'm always counseling my patients to avoid texting and walking,” says Barbara Bergin, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon. Not only are people more likely to hurt themselves, but they’re more likely to be seen as easy victims by attackers.
“Predators are looking for signs of weakness in their victims, and the distraction of a cell phone and texting, are a sign that the potential victim is unaware of their surroundings.”
2. Reconsider headphones while walking or jogging
Listening to music cuts off one line of defense. Drop down to one earbud or consider foregoing the tunes altogether. If you’re going out for a walk, or you run alone, let someone know what route you plan on taking and when you’ll be home. Always try to choose well-populated paths and bring your cellphone with you.
3. Lock your car doors immediately once you’re in…
… and keep your vehicle door locked while you’re driving. Attackers have been known to approach vehicles at red lights and force their way into unlocked doors. Don’t dawdle in your vehicle once you’re in—drive off right away.
4. If you’re alone with strangers in elevators, talk to them
Your first instinct might be to not talk to strangers, but this move can diffuse a potentially dangerous situation. Make small talk about the weather and look them in the eyes. If you’ve gotten a good look at their facial features, you could probably pick them out of a police lineup—something that could dissuade potential attackers.
5. Be wary of the windshield wiper ploy
If you get to your car only to realize a flyer, piece of clothing or something else is trapped under your windshield wipers, don’t get out of the car to remove it. Attackers do this to get you out of your safety zone and distracted—the perfect opportunity to attack. Instead, cautiously drive away to a safe, well-lit and well-populated area to remove the item from the windshield.
6. Don’t set down your drink in public
“Never leave you drink at the bar or table, and return and drink it. That is the time drugs can be dropped in the drink,” says inventor Sandy Stein. In a similar vein, don’t accept a drink you didn’t watch being poured. Finish or throw a drink away if you need to go to the bathroom.
7. Park in well-lit areas and use the buddy system
Try to park your vehicle under street lamps. Have someone escort you to your vehicle if possible. Attackers tend to be opportunists, so anything that makes an attack more difficult to pull off can help.
8. Place your keys between your knuckles as a makeshift weapon
If you’re out walking, get your keychain out and hold it in your fist, with keys splayed out between your fingers, says Robert Sollars, a veteran of the security field for 34 years. “This will allow for an instant weapon to lash at someone’s face if necessary.”
It’s also important to be prepared and have your keys out to avoid digging for them—a potentially dangerous distraction.
“Always have your keys in hand when coming or going. It’s the time that you are searching in your backpack or bag looking for your keys that someone can run up and grab your purse or worse,” says Stein.
9. Look confident
Attackers look for distracted, vulnerable or meek individuals. Present yourself as a confident person on a mission when out walking to ward off those may be observing you.
“Stand and walk with a purpose," Stein advises. "Know where you are going and have a plan.”
10. Avoid parking next to vans
“Never park your car near a panel van and be leery if one is parked next to you when you finish shopping. The side door can easily slide open to snatch you inside,” says Sollars. Always be aware of other drivers in parked cars near you as well.
If you’re at home…
11. Switch up your route and routine
We’re creatures of habit, but those ways can make us vulnerable to attack. Alternate routes home and switch up your routine if possible to throw off stalkers. If you think you’re being followed, don’t drive to your home. Call the police or drive to a police station.
12. Always keep your doors and windows locked
Make it a reflex to lock your door as soon as you enter your house. Don’t sleep with the windows open overnight, and make sure the garage door is secured at all times, too.
“Keep your windows locked. Always keep the door locked as much as possible and always overnight,” says Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert.
13. Keep an extra key fob on the night stand
If you don’t have a home security system, keep an extra car key remote next to your bed. You can turn on your vehicle’s alarm system if you hear something in the night and scare away any possible intruders. As the article notes, it’s important to remember that false car alarms are common and can suffer from a “cry wolf” effect, so don’t treat it as your only defense.
14. Leave your lights on
Make sure the entrances to your home are well-lit. Leave a light or music on to give the appearance that you’re home. This deters potential break-ins
15. Always close your blinds when it’s dark out
Keeping the window open for all to see when night falls is an open invitation for others to watch your patterns, bedtimes and the layout of your home. Guard yourself by drawing the curtains when the sun goes down.
If you are followed or confronted…
16. If you’re being followed, get to a well-populated area
If you’re on foot, don’t hesitate to cross to the other side of the street—it’s always better to be extra cautious. Head for a populated public area, if possible, and don’t take shortcuts through lesser-walked areas. If you’re driving, don’t go home. Drive to a police station.
17. If you’re approached, don’t engage with trouble
“If [someone] approaches you when you’re having coffee, reading a book or during a conversation with a friend, silence can be the best response,” says Susan Harrow, a media coach with a black belt in Aikido and a verbal self-defense course for girls. “Don’t give the person approaching any energy. Don’t look in [their] direction. Ignore [them].”
18. Try a pattern interrupt to surprise your assailant
“If you’re approached by someone and ignoring them doesn’t work, try a pattern interrupt,” Harrow suggests. This will surprise and possibly throw off the unwanted attention.
“Slam your book shut, pound your hand on the table, and yell ‘No!’ to startle them. It’s a redirection that can prevent a potentially bad situation. Then go back to what you were doing immediately. If you don't engage, there is no game,” says Harrow.
19. If they try to come close to you, start yelling
“If [someone] approaches you, one of the best techniques is to let them know you’re aware of them is to put out your hand and say, ‘Stop right there!’ or, ‘Don’t get any closer,’” says Harrow.
The purpose of this is to create a distance between you and the potential attacker. It shows them that you’re aware and willing to take action, as you’ve already demonstrated using your voice and body to keep them away, says Harrow.
If you’re being attacked…
20. Make a scene and scream “fire”
People are more likely to take notice if they hear someone screaming “fire” rather than for help. Fight dirty—nothing is off-limits when your life is on the line.
21. Go for the wrist and pinky
“If you’re being attacked, two of the best areas to leverage are the wrist and pinky finger,” says Harrow.
“Turn the wrist outward away from the elbow. It doesn’t take strength, just presence of mind. Same with the pinky grab. Instead of trying to wrench away an attacker’s hand, just grab the pinky—it’s the weakest part of the hand and bending it in the opposite direction is effective to get free and escape.”
22. Strike at highly-sensitive body parts
If you’re going head to head with an attacker, hit them where it hurts: The eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knee and legs. For example, scratch at the eyes or kick in the side of the knee. Use the heel of your palm to strike the base of the nose in an upward motion.
23. Do everything you can to avoid going to a second location
If an attacker wants to force you to a second location via their car or other means, do everything you can to prevent that, even if they have a weapon. The second location will be isolated and out of your control—a place where your attacker could harm you.
24. Escape from zip-tied wrists by thrusting your arms
Raise your arms above your head and slam them down into your stomach to snap them off. You can also rub a zip tie against your shoelaces and the friction will cause them to break.
25. Free yourself from a trunk through the tail lights
Kick the back tail lights out and wave your hands to alert other cars on the road. You can also feel around for the trunk release lever or the latch. If the car is parked, you can try to kick out the back seat.
Preventative safety measures to take…
26. Double check your social media settings
“Review the privacy settings of all your social media accounts, as some accounts have geolocation features that can reveal your location via photos,” Siciliano says. Also refrain from posting about being out of town or showing off expensive items.
27. Take self-defense courses
The best way to prepare for the worst possible scenario is to know how to hold your own in a confrontation. Self-defense courses teach you ways to ward off attackers and let you practice techniques to escape from a potentially deadly encounter.
28. Have a family password
This is a code word to be used in emergency situations if you have children. Should something happen to you, the adult who goes to retrieve the children can share the family password, indicating they are safe to trust.
29. Consider getting a dog
Consider getting a guard dog for added protection at home. Burglars hate dogs because they bark and sometimes bite. A protective dog can also keep you safe if you’re out walking or running.
30. Always be aware of your surroundings
“Attackers are opportunistic and look for easy targets. Your single best defense is to pay attention to your surroundings and to anyone who is approaching you or getting too near and to create distance immediately—then get to a safe place,” says Harrow.
Make safety a priority
So, can you text 911? In some areas, yes. But until this emerging technology is adapted across the entire country, it’s better to be on the safe side and call 911 if you’re ever in trouble. Always be on your guard, follow your instincts and remember these personal safety tips to protect yourself and your loved ones—you never know who is out there and what their intentions are.
You’re interested in keeping yourself safe—but do you have what it takes to protect others and crack cases? See if you have what it takes by checking out our article, "Investigate Your Future: Are You Destined for a Crime-Solving Career?"
Did you find this article helpful? Pass it along to your loved ones to ensure they stay safe. If you have a tip that's not included, please share it in the comments below!