FCC Moves to Implement Text-to-911 Nationwide

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-12-13 Print this article Print

"York County's deployment of the technology solution with TCS [TeleCommunication Systems] is the first.  Verizon Wireless also has two other deployments (one in Durham, N.C., and in the state of Vermont) for Text-to-911."

TCS is the company that provides the pathway for text messages to move to the PSAPs. "We connect to SMS message centers to collect the text messages and we connect to location-based service infrastructures to get latitude and longitude for the mobile device, then we compare the location of the text message with jurisdiction boundaries in the U.S. and determine which to send it to," said Thomas Ginter, vice president of product development for TCS.

Ginter said that TCS, which can be either an on-premise or cloud-based solution, then delivers the text message and the location information to the PSAP in a format it can use. “We host the portal environment, allowing the reply to the citizen calling 911 using a multimedia geospatial routing engine," Ginter said. He said that this allows PSAPs to receive picture messages and video when they're ready in addition to text messages.

Hearing witnesses as well as the members of the Commission observed that Text-to-911 is critical for people with hearing and speech problems, people who may need help in medical emergencies where speech is not possible, or for people in significant danger from anything including home invasions to abductions.

The need for what the Commission calls "bounce back" messages is also critical since people have already begun sending text messages to 911, never realizing that their message isn't going through. During the hearings it was revealed that thousands of text messages were sent out to 911 during Hurricane Sandy, and that people had no way to know that their messages were never delivered. Now carriers have already begun to implement an automated response to a 911 text that lets the sender know the feature isn't available yet and to call 911 on the phone.

The fact that all four national wireless carriers have voluntarily agreed to put Text-to-911 into place quickly is a very good start. But dozens of regional carriers still have not signed on. The FCC action will likely help move that along. Fortunately, a lot of momentum exists to make this work. "This is the first time in 40 years that something new has happened in communications for emergency officials," Ginter said. "Without this step, we're still stuck in the dark ages."


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