King County Executive Dow Constantine today applauded proposed new federal rules that would require all wireless carriers, as well as telephone text messaging applications, to deliver emergency 9-1-1 text messages in areas where emergency call centers are capable of receiving them.
“Our 9-1-1 dispatchers already have the equipment to receive text messages, but right now wireless carriers don’t provide this service,” said Constantine. “Once they do, we can provide better emergency response to people with hearing or speech disabilities.”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) emphasizes that whenever possible, people should make a voice call to 9-1-1 during an emergency. However, text-to-911 will provide a lifesaving alternative in situations where a person with a hearing or speech disability is unable to make a voice call or where an audible 9-1-1 voice call could endanger the caller.
The new rules proposed by the FCC follow an announcement by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and two national 9-1-1 associations that they will begin major deployments of text-to-911 service in 2013, with nationwide availability by May 15, 2014. The FCC is seeking comment from carriers and third-party messaging providers as to whether this time frame is achievable.
If text-to-911 service is not available in an area, the four major phone carriers have agreed to implement automated “bounce back” error messages. This capability will be in place by June 30, 2013.
King County has been actively working to upgrade the countywide Enhanced 9-1-1 system to Next Generation 9-1-1 technology for the past several years. Text-to-911 is a major milestone in this transition.
All of the 9-1-1 centers throughout King County already have the equipment necessary to receive text-to-911, so they will be ready to receive text messages as soon as wireless carriers offer the service. In the meantime, King County’s E-911 Program Office is conducting a Next Generation 9-1-1 pilot project to test various components of the new technology.