Texting to 9-1-1 a Reality? …. Well, Not Really

On May 15, the media was abuzz with reports that text-to-9-1-1 had finally arrived, and that citizens – especially the deaf, hearing impaired, or those in imminent danger could silently type their problems to the emergency number.

Although is some cases this was true, in a vast many others it was not. Here’s why.

Last year several of the national wireless carriers volunteered to have capacity for providing text-to-9-1-1 service available by mid-May. However, not much more than that was promised.

It is incumbent upon the Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to file a letter of intent with their providers requesting that service be initialized. This is very similar to the process used when enhanced wireless 9-1-1 was introduced.

The technical changes required to implement the service need to be made, and in some cases, entire states need to be converted. There are also a couple of different options on how to deploy, and these decisions need to be accomplished.

While May 15 may not have been the finish line, it was at least the starting point, and progress is being made in connecting the gaps. Text-to-9-1-1 is the first of many steps in the “Next Generation 9-1-1” program that will eventually allow the sending of video and photographic illustrations of emergencies, but neither of these has even a best guess date attached to their roll-out.

BARRY FUREY, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is director of the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center in North Carolina. During his 35-year public safety career, he has managed 911 centers and served as a volunteer fire officer in three other states. In 2005, Furey received a life membership in the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials (APCO) International for his continued work in emergency communications.