Google offers new way to reach 911 with RCS

  • Google is working with RapidSOS to provide multimedia messaging support to 911 centers
  • The goal is to bring RCS to emergency texting and messaging everywhere
  • This is a Google thing, but it so happens that next week is Apple’s WWDC, where we might hear more about Apple’s RCS plans

Google is doubling down on its commitment to RCS, or Rich Communication Services, by introducing the ability to use RCS to text 911 through Google Messages on Android devices.

In a blog post, Google noted that texting 911 through SMS already is offered in some locations. But texting 911 through SMS is only available for about 53% of U.S. emergency response call centers and doesn’t always allow for photos and videos.

Together with RapidSOS, Google will offer RCS to 911 call centers to provide new safety benefits, including:

  • the ability for Android users to receive confirmation that their message has been received
  • the transfer of high-resolution images and videos to give first responders a better idea of what’s happening
  • share precise location and medical information through Android Emergency Location Service
Google messages emergency

It’s a continuation of the theme that Google has been investing in over the years, according to Boone Spooner, group product manager, Product Safety for Google.

“We can bring our messaging to areas so that users can get that additional help that they would need,” he told Fierce Network. “For us, it’s really a continuation of this story to bring safety to our users, bring them peace of mind, bring them the comfort of knowing they can be helped when they need it.”

RapidSOS CEO Michael Martin said millions of Americans have some sort of speech impediment or challenge in having a clear conversation in the middle of an emergency. And texting is just plain more suitable in some situations – like, perish the thought, there’s an active shooter in the building.

Some of this sounds familiar, in the sense that satellite-based services are enabling texting to 911, starting with Apple’s Emergency SOS service. T-Mobile, through its partnership with SpaceX, talks about how it plans to offer similar messaging capabilities for its customers when they’re hiking or exploring remote areas.

But this is different. It’s using RCS and data pathways to connect with RapidSOS and give additional messaging opportunities to Android users, Spooner said.

“I think they are very different categories of services, although both are very beneficial to users. We’re all aiming here to give users more access to emergency messaging when things happen,” he said.

“Our goal is to make RCS the standard for emergency texting everywhere,” he added.

Of course, a big part of being able to contact 911 wirelessly is the ability to do it indoors, and for emergency responders to find the person inside buildings. The RCS service works as long as the user has data; it’s not limited to the great outdoors where there’s a direct link to a satellite.

“This comes through existing systems that they’re already using,” Martin said. “It’s very easy for an agency to enable this … Any agency can opt in to receive this starting later this year.”

What about Apple?

Of course, Spooner declined to comment on anything that Apple may or may not be doing. But Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) is next week and there’s an expectation that Apple will announce RCS support for iOS 18. Reports surfaced last year that Apple would be adding RCS to the iPhone in 2024.

Since the capabilities that Google and RapidSOS announced today won’t roll out to call centers until this winter, why are they making this announcement now?

From the RapidSOS standpoint, “we pre-announce public safety initiatives like this because we need time to work with agencies across the U.S. and collaborate on standard operating procedures, training, integration support, etc.,” a spokesperson said.

Google said its goal is to make RCS the standard for emergency services texting everywhere, and “we’re inviting the ecosystem to partner with us to provide reliable emergency messaging for everyone.”

Sounds like a fine time for the other half of the smartphone ecosystem to jump on board.