Text-to-911: Does my center need it?
By: Bill Kicklighter • Published:
Dialogue about Text-to-911 is ramping up every day. The FCC is making rules and deadlines, the private industry vendors have created solutions for today’s legacy systems and for the future, and local 9-1-1 centers are trying to figure out what direction to take to make Text-to-911 available to their citizens. Many 9-1-1 center managers are not sure which solution to implement or how big of an impact Text-to-911 is going to have on their operation and personnel. A lot of them are asking a pretty basic, but important, question: “Do we really need Text-to-911?” For this short article, we’re going to try to keep this complex issue simple.
1. Do you remember when access to 9-1-1 from wireless phones dominated the industry discussions?
Many people in the industry asked questions like: Do we really need to go through all of this time and expense? Is it necessary? How will we know where they are calling from? What if the caller hangs up and we have no idea where to look for them? These questions were valid, and the industry was searching for answers. Today, it’s pretty safe to say wireless access to 9-1-1 was an incredibly important milestone in the history of 9-1-1 services. The percentage of calls to 9-1-1 from wireless devices far exceeds the percentage of calls from landline devices. The benefits of this technology to the public we serve are tremendous. Prior to wireless 9-1-1 technology, 9-1-1 centers were experts at locating places. Now we are experts at locating people.
2. Why go through the expense and effort to implement Text-to-911 capability?
We all got into this business to help people. We want to improve and save lives, be the beacon of light when someone is experiencing their darkest moment and provide hope that the world will be a place we want our children to grow up in. And we do it all… one call at a time. So, if we have one single caller in an emergency that cannot speak to us for any reason, but has the ability to type a text, we all know what we have to do. We have to do everything possible to help him or her. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. If we have the technology available to allow that caller to reach 9-1-1 and get help, then we have to.
3. Which technology should our 9-1-1 center implement?
This is a question many 9-1-1 center managers are asking. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, consider this when you make your decision.
Your call-takers and dispatchers have to use the technology you implement. They need to be able to use it efficiently and easily so they can provide the best service possible to the caller. Consider the technology that will best meet this objective. If you aren’t sure which solution that is, demonstrate the options to your call-takers and dispatchers… they will tell you.
Look at today’s generation and the way they use electronic communication devices. Do you think a simple text to 9-1-1 will be enough for them? Absolutely not. They will expect to send pictures, video, audio recordings, etc. to your 9-1-1 center from their device, and all of that is valuable information you need to capture. What about smartphone apps that detect a person’s vital signs? Or audio analytics that can determine whether a sound was a gunshot, and even what type of gun it was? I could go on & on, but the point is to think about your ability to handle volumes of incoming data. When you’re choosing a solution today, do you want to take a simple approach and have to continue to change it as these features become necessary? Maybe the answer is yes, or maybe not. Just give the future some thought as you make the decision that is best for your organization.
The majority of 9-1-1 systems today are still using a telephone network infrastructure that is, well, a little old. It’s been quite reliable for a long time, but let’s face it, it’s old. Those times are changing, and as 9-1-1 professionals, it’s our job to prepare our centers and our personnel for the future. As personal communications devices change, 9-1-1 centers must also change to adapt to the new technology. Text-to-911 is just the beginning of other huge advances in our industry. So the simple answer is YES, your center really needs to implement Text-to-911 functionality. Don’t be afraid of it. There are numerous vendors and industry consultants with great Text-to-911 solutions that can help you find the right one for your center.