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Text-to-911 Will Start Arriving This Year


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January 28, 2013

Text-to-911 Will Start Arriving This Year

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Contributor

“My car just got flipped on the highway and I need help. LOL.”

While most citizens in North America cannot currently reach emergency services via text message, the feature is coming soon. Both the U.S. and Canada should will have some form of text-to-911 services available in 2013 or 2014, although their implementations will vary.

Several wireless carriers in the U.S. have announced plans to support text-to-911 this year, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)), and some 911 centers will also begin accepting text messages in addition to voice calls.

Unless a resident is sure that texting to 911 is available on his provider, however, the FCC warns against attempting emergency texts.

“Today’s 911 system is not designed to support emergency text messages, except in a few areas where limited text-to-911 trials are underway,” noted the FCC. “In an emergency, you should not attempt to communicate with 911 by text if you have not confirmed that the capability is available in your area.”

There are no plans to support email-to-911 or instant message chatting to 911, either.

Canada is farther along with its text-to-911 implementation. All telephone and wireless companies must upgrade its networks to support text messaging communication with Canadians who have hearing and speech impairments by January 24, 2014, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Some carriers will start offering it sooner as they roll out their implantation.

“Services such as 911 are critical to the health and safety of all Canadians,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in a statement last week, reported the CBC. “This initiative is a perfect example of how technology can be used to improve access to 911 services for Canadians with disabilities.”

But text-to-911 will not be instantaneous in Canada, and it won’t be as simple as sending a message to 911.

Since the assumption is that those with hearing difficulties will be the primary users of text-to-911, not fast-typing teenagers, the Canadian system requires that anyone wanting to use text-to-911 to first register their mobile phone with their wireless service provider to enable the feature. Their phone also must be compatible with Canada’s text-to-911 service.

And when Canadians wish to use text-to-911, they must first call 911 like normal. Since the mobile number will be registered for the text-to-911 feature, however, the emergency call center will automatically be notified that the conversation should proceed via text messaging and will initiate the text conversation.

So while text-to-911 will help those with hearing issues in Canada, in most cases it still will make more sense to just reach emergency services by phone.

Edited by Ashley Caputo

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