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Those who can't hear, speak get 911 texting option

Canadian wireless carriers must make changes to their networks and systems to support 911 emergency text messages from hearing- and speech-impaired people, the federal telecom regulator said Thursday.

The service would only be provided to the hearing- and speech-impaired who have pre-registered for it with their wireless carrier, which must make it available within 12 months, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said.

The CRTC said access to emergency telecommunication services is critical to safety and the hearing- and speech-impaired don't have full access to the 911 service.

There will be no need for hearing- or speech-impaired people to try speaking when making a 911 call.

Once registered, they would be able to call 911 in the traditional way on their cellphones, but the call would be flagged as coming from a pre-registered person with a hearing or speech impairment. The 911 operator would respond by sending a text message to the caller, and the caller and 911 operator would continue to communicate back and forth via text messages, the CRTC said in its decision.

The regulator requests that carriers have a plan to inform these subscribers and the general public of the 911 text-messaging service for the hearing- or speech-impaired, the CRTC said.

The CRTC has been asking Canadians, especially emergency responders, for ideas on how to improve 911 service in light of changing technology.

It is expected texting for 911 service by the public at large will be deployed sometime after the service is in place for the hearing- and speech-impaired.

The trial runs for this 911 service were done last spring and summer in Vancouver, Toronto, the Peel Region and Montreal with hearing- and speech-impaired volunteers.

Telus participated in the trials, which involved simulated emergencies.

Spokesman Shawn Hall said there's still a lot of technical work to do as the wireless industry and 911 operations centres work to implement the service community by community.

"Text messages cannot simply go through to 911. The systems aren't compatible. Here in Canada, we have a found an elegant and simple solution that should really work," Hall said.

"The text session is layered on top of the 911 voice call, so that texting happens in real time and location information is also transmitted," he said.

The CRTC noted wireless carriers and MTS Inc. proposed taking more than a year to roll out the service. However, the CRTC ruled the work can be done within the specified time period if treated as a "high priority."

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association also said it supports the CRTC's decision.

-- The Canadian Press

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