Finally: Texting to 911
During trials of text-to-911 in Iowa and Vermont, lives were saved. An attempted suicide was averted and domestic abuse was prevented.
Texting a 911 call seems like an obvious option to make available. The FCC announced that four wireless providers have agreed to accelerate the adoption of text-to-911 call centers. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have plans to offer text-to-911 service in 2013 with full coverage by May 2014. It seems contradictory that you can send and receive alerts by texting with many organizations but not with a 911 call center, the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).This is a long-overdue step forward.
In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, "Today we are taking an unprecedented step to make text-to-911 available in all parts of the country. For the first time, we are proposing specific requirements and timeframes that will add text capability to the 911 system; expand the accessibility of 911 for all Americans, including millions of people with disabilities; and mark the first major milestone in the nation's migration to Next Generation 911 (NG911). The actions we are taking build on many months of Commission focus in this area, as well as efforts that have been initiated by industry and the 911 community."
This effort by the FCC first required Congress to grant funds. Next was getting the mobile providers to agree to the text-to-911 deployment over their networks.
AT&T has been authorized to proceed with a statewide trial in Tennessee. AT&T initiated a new Emergency Service IP Network which allows their subscribers to send a text message to a Tennessee PSAP.
During trials of text-to-911 in Iowa and Vermont, lives were saved. An attempted suicide was averted and domestic abuse was prevented, demonstrating the value of text-to-911. The rollout of the service will be dependent on the providers' plans and their operating service areas. One provider may have it in a given area while a competitive provider doesn't.
Unfortunately, during the recent storm Sandy, many people attempted to text 911 PSAPs, but no messages were ever received. The same was true during the Virginia Tech shooting. This shows that citizens expected to text PSAPs but did not know the service was unavailable.
Do not expect that text-to-911 will be rapidly available in your area. Not only will there need to be a network with associated technology to support it, the PSAPs have to request it. If the PSAP cannot handle the text messages, then no text-to-911 will be operating. The budgets that the PSAPs work under may not have the funds to deploy text-to-911. For the meantime there are four things to remember about text-to-911:
* Always make a voice call to 911 if possible in an emergency.
* You probably cannot reach 911 today by sending a text message. Only a few limited early rollouts are in test phases.
* When you can to text a 911 center, you should still make a voice call as well whenever possible.
* You can follow the latest deployments of text-to-911 at www.fcc.gov/text-to-911.
The ability to text-to-911 provides people with hearing or speech disabilities an alternative. They can also continue to use their TTYs or relay services.
The FCC's Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking expects all wireless providers, as well as providers of "over the top" text messaging that use IP-based or SMS protocols to deliver text messages to destinations identified by a telephone number. They will be required to deploy text-to-911 and to provide "bounce-back" messages where text-to-911 is not available. More than 90% of smartphone users currently employ SMS as their form of text messaging. The Notice also focuses on the resolution of other issues including standards and service deployment, location accuracy, cost recovery, and carrier liabilities.
The next phase of text-to-911 will allow the attachment of photos and video for transmission to PSAPs.
Various FCC documents on texting to 911 can be found at http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-proposes-action-accelerate-nationwide-text-911