July 24, 2014

Vermont Enhanced 911 board launches ‘text-to-911’ trial

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Verizon Wireless customers can now send a text message to 911 from locations in Vermont for emergency help as part of a six-month trial to test the potential of this technology.

From now until Oct.15, the Williston Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) will accept 911 text messages from Verizon Wireless customers as part of a collaboration between the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board, Verizon Wireless and Intrado. Intrado, a Colorado-based emergency communications technology provider, installed next-generation 911 software that enables text messaging in the Williston PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point).

Although there have been trials in other parts of the country, this will be the first statewide trial in Vermont to enable “text-to-911” technology using 911 digits and live call takers. The trial is being provided at no cost to Vermont.

All text messages to 911 originating from a Verizon Wireless device in Vermont will be routed to the Williston PSAP, which will coordinate with the appropriate local first responders to respond to the emergency. In order to do this, texters should include the location of the emergency in the first message.

According to David Tucker, Executive Director of the Enhanced 911 Board, this trial is intended to examine use of text-to-911 for two types of emergency situations: those experienced by someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing; or those in which the caller might be in additional danger if someone overhears them making a voice call to 911.

“Vermont has one of the most advanced 911 systems in the country, and by undertaking this trial, we are giving deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals a way to directly contact 911 without the use of a TTY attachment to their mobile phone. Others who may be victims of domestic violence or in some other dangerous situation and might not be able to safely make a voice call to 911 could also use this technology. This trial, which is scheduled to go through mid-October, is intended to explore the value of text-to-911 in these situations,” said Tucker.

Tucker explained that there are several parameters that users should be aware of before sending an emergency text message to 911. “We need to test and evaluate all aspects of ‘text-to-911’ technology before any potential widespread implementation,” Tucker said. “We understand there is strong interest in this new technology, but we need to better understand how the current technology works and help our own operations, as well as helping Verizon Wireless and Intrado to learn from our experience before possibly rolling out this technology permanently.”

“We applaud the state’s vision in launching this trial,” said Dami Hummel, vice president and general manager of Intrado’s Mobility division. “There are more than 36 million deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in this country, and a statewide deployment such as this not only benefits the citizens of Vermont, but it goes a long way toward proving how valuable this capability is on a nationwide basis.”

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