Detailed within a press release earlier today, AT&T and representatives within the state of Tennessee are joining forces to start testing emergency 911 texting before a nationwide launch of the useful feature. In order to enable the new text-to-911 service, all 911 text messages from AT&T customers will be routed through Tennessee’s Emergency Service IP Network (ESInet) and send to emergency call centers around the state. As the new feature undergoes significant testing, AT&T and the state will get a better understanding of how useful the text-to-911 service is for the public in addition to measuring how efficient call center operators will be at handling the flow and distribution of emergency messages. AT&T hopes to develop a set of rules and standards that will help guide emergency call centers within other states.
This new service will be particularly helpful for anyone that’s physically lost the ability to vocalize their emergency with a traditional voice call through 911 emergency services. In addition, the hearing impaired community will be able to communicate problems vastly quicker with a text message through the text-to-911 service.
Another scenario where a text-to-911 service would be vital would be a home invasion. A young child hiding within the home could easily text the emergency to 911 in order to avoid making any noise by speaking during a typical voice call. In addition, a text-to-911 service could be particularly helpful for customers that get poor voice reception in a remote area and have significant problems with dropped calls.
During August 2011, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to push forward on the text-to-911 service and include the ability to send photos and videos to call center operators. A year prior to that, the FCC has started the initial planning on the project, namely because of the tragic shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. Apparently students were sending text messages to 911 during the shootings, but call centers weren’t equipped to receive the messages.
When asked about the trial run of the text-to-911 service, AT&T Business Solutions VP of Public Safety Solutions Mel Coker stated “AT&T is committed to working with standard bodies, national, state, and local public safety organizations to determine how best to integrate SMS text messages and other advanced communications into future 9-1-1 systems and wireless networks. This trial will be vital in evaluating Text to 9-1-1 solutions with the goal of providing reliable, universal access for our customers.”
Announced during May 2012, Verizon is also working toward providing a text-to-911 service to customers. Verizon customers will simply need a wireless phone capable of sending messages in addition to the wireless service plan that supports text messaging. Based off prior plans, Verizon representatives will launch the new feature within several major metropolitan areas during the first half of 2013 prior to launching the feature across the entire nation. A future planned addition to the text-to-911 service is the ability to automatically include a link to the user’s location. However, the phone would have to utilize a built-in GPS chip in order to relay that specific information to emergency services.