Accessibility/Mobile Features
Skip Navigation
Skip to Content
Editorial News
Business
Classified Sites

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

4 major phone carriers providing text-to-911 in push to improve US emergency dispatch system

FILE--In this April 18, 2012, file photo, David Tucker, executive director of Vermont's Enhanced 911 Board, holds a smart phone in Montpelier, Vt. Tucker says the state is the first in the country where customers of the four major wireless carriers can send text messages to 911. As of Monday, May 19, 2014, T-Mobile customers in Vermont are now able to text 911. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint began the service earlier. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, file)

Enlarge Image

FILE--In this April 18, 2012, file photo, David Tucker, executive director of Vermont's Enhanced 911 Board, holds a smart phone in Montpelier, Vt. Tucker says the state is the first in the country where customers of the four major wireless carriers can send text messages to 911. As of Monday, May 19, 2014, T-Mobile customers in Vermont are now able to text 911. Verizon, AT&T and Sprint began the service earlier. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, file)

MONTPELIER, Vt. - The four major U.S. wireless phone companies are providing emergency texting 911 service as of this month to any local government that wants it and has the capability to use it, a big step toward moving the nation's emergency dispatch system out of the voice-only technology that dates to the 1960s.

Local governments in 16 states are using it, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and Vermont became the first to offer the technology statewide Monday.

"This is a big deal," Brian Fontes, the chief executive officer of the Virginia-based National Emergency Number Association, said of the four major carriers offering text-to-911.

"It's been a long time — years, decades — since our nation's 911 systems have been advanced. They are pretty much still almost 100 per cent voice-centric, 1960s technology."

Fontes said that 911 texting is part of a broader push to use technology to enhance the information that can be provided to emergency responders.

"In today's technology world where you and I and other people have smartphones that can do many different things simultaneously, it's important that we have the opportunity to ensure that our nation's 911 centres are equally equipped with technology."

Some professional sports teams allow fans to report unruly behaviour inside stadiums and arenas through texting, while law enforcement has started using text messaging during standoff negotiations.

Police have also embraced using social media to deliver information and to help in investigations.

The four major providers — Sprint, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and AT&T — voluntarily committed to providing the service by May 15. The FCC has required all service providers to offer it by the end of the year.

The text-to-911 service is now limited to text only — photos, videos and location information will have to wait for the next generation of the technology.

Industry experts tell people to limit texts for help to circumstances when voice calls can't be made, such as for the deaf or hard of hearing or in domestic violence cases where people can't speak.

Black Hawk County, Iowa, became the first to use text 911 in June 2009, said Judy Flores, director of the consolidated communication centre for Black Hawk County, located in Waterloo.

"It's worked great," Flores said, adding that Iowa is expected to expand the service statewide within the next few weeks.

Fontes said he expected the use of text-to-911 would grow, but he can't say how fast. Vermont is one of the few states in the country with a statewide emergency 911 phone system, making rollout easier.

While the number using text 911 is small —there have only been 34 legitimate 911 texts for help since Vermont started using the system, compared to 208,000 911 voice calls last year — David Tucker, executive director of Vermont's Enhanced 911 board, notes that it has saved at least one life after dispatchers received a text about a suicide-by-hanging in progress.

"We were able to get a location for the person and it's my understanding the police broke down the door," Tucker said. "The person had already hung themselves. They cut him down and revived him."

  • Rate this Rate This Star Icon
  • This article has not yet been rated.
  • We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high. If you thought it was well written, do the same. If it doesn’t meet your standards, mark it accordingly.

    You can also register and/or login to the site and join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Rate it yourself by rolling over the stars and clicking when you reach your desired rating. We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high.

Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 0 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

There are no comments at the moment. Be the first to post a comment below.

Post Your Commentcomment icon

Comment
  • You have characters left

The Brandon Sun does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. Comments are moderated before publication. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Brandon Sun Business Directory
The First World War at 100
Why Not Minot?
Welcome to Winnipeg

Social Media

Canadian Mortgage Rates