December 28, 2012
Text-to-911 Service on the Horizon
Even though short messaging service (SMS) is a technology over 20 years old, many 911 call centers are not equipped to deal with it. There are cases where people have texted 911 in emergency situations when talking or otherwise making noise might have endangered them, and they expected a response. In these situations, no response came.
The FCC (News - Alert) and the top four wireless carriers have recently announced that this will be universally possible come 2014. By mid-2013, carriers expect to have an auto reply to anyone who texts 911 but it does not go through. Meanwhile, 911 call centers will be getting training during this year to respond properly to texts, especially if the possibility of pictures or video is introduced. This goes beyond SMS but may be an option for some call centers.
It should be noted that no third party services are other devices will be supported, the FCC wants the full responsibility of communication from caller to 911 center to be in the hands of only one provider at a time, to limit confusion or the possibility of scapegoating if things go wrong. It appears that the big four are in agreement on this issue.
Additionally, the reason that the FCC and the big four providers consider this an important issue is because one third of all calls to 911 occur on cell phones, and the number that might increase drastically when SMS is a real possibility, hopefully leading to more efficiency amongst first-responders and a safer country.
Text-to-911 can provide a lifesaving alternative in situations where a person with a hearing or speech disability is unable to make a voice call, where voice networks are congested, or where a 911 call could endanger the caller. At the same time, the FCC emphasized that text-to-911 will complement, not replace or substitute for, existing voice-based 911 service and that consumers should always make a voice call to 911 when they can.
“Implementing text-to-911 will keep pace with how consumers communicate today and can provide a lifesaving alternative in situations where a person with a hearing or speech disability is unable to make a voice call, where voice networks are congested, or where a 911 voice call could endanger the caller,” the FCC says on its website.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein
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