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Text-to-911: Modernising the US Emergency Services

Text-to-911: Modernising the US Emergency Services

It is perhaps globally known that if you require emergency services in America, you dial 9-1-1. It was first nationally introduced in the late 1960s, although not widely put to use until the 1980s. There hasn’t really been any adaption to the system that was put in place then, and with an ever-evolving technological era, maybe now is the time to bring communication with emergency services into modern times.

Some professional sports events in the US allow for fans in the stadium to text-report problems and unruly behaviour from their mobile phone. This means that if you witnessed something when sat watching your favourite team you wouldn’t have to leave your seat to find someone official to tell about it, and you wouldn’t have to worry about having to shout into your phone over the roar of other fans. Some law enforcement officers have also used texting to communicate in standoff negotiations.

And now, in another big step towards modernising the emergency dispatch system, four of the biggest wireless phone companies in the US – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless – have committed to providing a text-to-911 service from this month onwards. The Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC as it is more commonly known, has said that all network providers in the US should be offering the emergency texting service by the end of the year.

“This is a big deal,” declared Brian Fontes, who is the CEO of the National Emergency Number Association in Virginia. “It has been a long time, years, decades since our nation’s 911 systems have been advanced… In today’s technology world where you and I and other people have smartphones that can do many different things simultaneously, it is important that we have the opportunity to ensure that our nation’s 911 centres are equally equipped with technology.”

At the moment, the text-to-911 service is text only, with photos, videos and location information in the pipeline for when technology has evolved a little further. The service will also have to be limited to situations when an emergency call needs to placed, but a voice call cannot be made, such as for deaf people and those hard of hearing, and also in some cases of domestic violence, when it is better that an emergency services request is not heard.

Black Hawk County, which is in the state of Iowa, was the first place where it was possible to text for emergency services back in June 2009, and it proved a great success. It is thought the service will be extending to the rest of the state within the next few weeks. There was also a successful trial in September 2010 where a text-to-911 service was provided to the state of Tennessee by AT&T.

Texting is something that can be done a lot more discreetly than a telephone call, so it is probable that the emergency services will be able to salvage more situations and save more people than ever before.

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