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More On Text Messaging

There is updated information. The four national cellphone providers, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, have signed an agreement with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) to send “bounce-back messages” to people who try to send a text message to 9-1-1 where text messaging isn’t available. The providers implemented this by the agreed-upon deadline of June 2013.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also adopted regulations applying this requirement to all cellphone providers and over-the-top text messaging providers (send text messages over the data/internet connection and services like Blackberry chat and Iphone chat).

The Agreement between the national cellular providers and NENA also provides for the providers to start delivering text messages to 9-1-1 in areas where PSAPs request to have them delivered. The carriers are to make text-to-911 available by May 2014, and to begin delivering text-to-911 to a 9-1-1 Call Center within 6 months of a request by the Call Center. The text messages can be delivered over NG9-1-1 system where available, otherwise over TDD/TTY interfaces, web portal, dedicated smartphone in PSAP or other method.

The FCC is expected to require all cellular providers and over-the-top providers to make the text-to-911 available on this same schedule. The over-the-top/Internet messaging providers are expected to appeal any such requirements to avoid the precedent of regulation of their services.

A critical task for the 9-1-1 Community is to educate the public that voice phone calls will continue to be the quickest and most efficient and effective way of communicating to a 9-1-1 call-taker the nature and location of an emergency, and having First Responders dispatched. Delivery of EMD (“Emergency Medical Dispatch”–a call taker diagnosing an injured or sick person and providing instructions in first-aid to the person calling 9-1-1), would also be slower and less effective by text message than by phone.

Text messaging is critical for speech- and hearing-impaired individuals because use of Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDDs, a kind of teletype device which all 9-1-1 Call Centers are required to have), has decreased 80% in last decade even though our aging population means more people have impaired hearing. The speech- and hearing-impaired community now  uses text messaging to communicate within the community and with hearing and speaking people. Text to 9-1-1 is also important for silent call situations where sound of phone call would give away location to hostile person, and when people are out of range of cell towers to make voice call.