Associations, Carriers Unveil Plan for Text-to-9-1-1

Emergency call centers will receive training and education in preparation for the future rollout of the new emergency response service.

Cellphone users are a step closer to being able to text 9-1-1 in case of an emergency thanks to an agreement reached between the National Emergency Number Association, the Association for Public-Safety Communications Officials International, and the four major wireless carriers—Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The service is expected to be begin in 2014 and will hinge on the deployment of hardware, software, and training at 9-1-1 centers throughout the United States.

“The purpose of the agreement is to get the large carriers, who serve about 95 percent of the total number of wireless subscribers in the country, to agree to a time schedule to enable their networks to support texting to 9-1-1,” said Brian Fontes, NENA’s CEO.

Known as “Next Generation 9-1-1,” the new system will be able to process various types of emergency calls—including multimedia messages—and will be less costly to maintain in the long run, according to NENA.

Text-to-9-1-1 would be important primarily in two circumstances, Fontes said. “There are roughly 34 million Americans who are either hearing-impaired or speech-impaired, who rely on texting as their primary means of communications. Also, there are those situations such as domestic abuse, hostage, or kidnappings where if you were speaking your ability to be detected and placed in harm’s way would be increased.”

The new service aligns with recent trends in wireless communication. “About one-third of the wireless network is consumed by voice communication. The other two-thirds are texting, data, and video,” said Fontes. “The way Americans communicate today has changed significantly.”

In the next year and a half NENA will train and educate its members and other 9-1-1 professionals at more than 6,000 call centers throughout the United States on how to operate the new system.

“We are also going to develop some basic standard operating procedures that should be followed in a text-to-9-1-1 environment,” said Fontes. “And then, of course, we will always advocate on behalf of our nation’s 9-1-1 centers to ensure that funding is available to enable them to move into the 21st century technologically.”

NENA considered its available resources and member needs in pushing for the new service. “From an association management perspective…it’s a matter of assessing and determining what avenues of action provide the greatest return on your investment of time, talent, and energy,” Fontes said. “We’ve done a lot of homework to determine if this is really going to be in the best interest of our membership, and I’m confident that our members will look at this in a favorable way.”

(Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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