It’s hard to argue against giving people more ways to reach 9-1-1 in an emergency.
That’s why Vermont is in the middle of a six-month trial program to test the viability of text-to-9-1-1 technology.
The state implemented a new hosted next-generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) system in partnership with Intrado in May 2011. That move, says David Tucker, executive director of Vermont’s Enhanced 9-1-1 Board, allowed the state to take the first steps toward taking full advantage of the NG9-1-1 technology, which includes the text-to-9-1-1 initiative.
Beginning in April, Verizon Wireless customers were able to send text messages to 9-1-1 from locations throughout Vermont. A text message using the short code 911 that first hits a Verizon tower in Vermont is routed to the Williston public-safety answering point (PSAP), one of eight PSAPs in the state, but the only one currently enabled to receive text messages. The trial lasts until October 15.
“Text-to-9-1-1 is a hot topic throughout the 9-1-1 community,” Tuckers says, “and we anticipate the FCC will either require or at least strongly encourage the wireless industry to take steps to enable SMS text-to-9-1-1. We recognize that SMS is not the best text-to-9-1-1 technology solution, but it is a good place to start, especially since SMS texting is so widely used.”
Tucker says when Vermont sought the opportunity to test text-to-9-1-1, both Intrado and Verizon Wireless stepped up to put the trial in place.
“After the first month, there have been no emergency texts received,” Tucker says. “One concern often expressed in the 9-1-1 community—that enabling text-to-9-1-1 will result in PSAPs being flooded with both real and spoof text messages—has not been shown to be real so far.”
The target audience for the text-to-9-1-1 service, Tucker explains, is individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. “For that portion of the population that has always had barriers to accessing 9-1-1, no more important service could be provided,” he says. “As we planned to implement the trial, our work with the deaf community gave us great insight into how that community would respond to the opportunity.
“We view the evolution of text-to-9-1-1 to be similar to those days before Automatic Location Information systems had been developed. No one said back then that 9-1-1 should not proceed. Likewise, in our view, there is no reason not to move ahead with a service that will, over time, be more widely available.”
Tucker also says that while Vermont is grateful to Verizon Wireless for taking the lead, it would welcome other carriers to participate in the trial. “If we have a documented intervention in an emergency as a result of someone texting 9-1-1,” he says, “we will certainly want to pursue a solution that can be implemented across all carriers.”