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In the News

Coming soon to the CAPCOG region: Text to 9-1-1

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


Texting to 9-1-1 in Central Texas? Voice calls
are still the best bet today, but more options lie ahead.


Can anyone send a text message to 9-1-1? Except in a few locations across the nation where testing has been conducted, the answer is “No.” However, new regulations and technology will make this possible in the near future.

Today, phone companies must transmit all 9-1-1 voice calls to 9-1-1 centers, also referred to as Public Safety Answering Points or PSAPs. Those calls include information about your telephone number and location, so the PSAP can get help to you more easily.

 > Get the list of capital area PSAPs

Federal Communications Commission rules govern services provided by wireless phone companies. The rules don’t require any companies to transmit text messages to 9-1-1 PSAPs. However, the FCC is seeking public comment on proposed rules that would require wireless phone companies and certain other text-message providers to begin transmitting text messages to 9-1-1 by year’s end.

As part of a voluntary agreement with the National Emergency Number Association and the Associated Public Safety Communications Officials International Inc., the four major wireless providers — AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile — began providing text-to-9-1-1 service within their network areas, with the 9-1-1 center ready to receive text messages. This service has been in the testing stage at about a dozen locations throughout the nation.

> Learn about the National Emergency Number Association

CAPCOG has installed new equipment to support the delivery of text messages at all 31 PSAPs in the region and expects to request the service from the carriers around the end of the year.

Implementation will take about six months, getting the service in operation across all four carriers after the request is processed. This provides time for call-taker training and a public education campaign.

The text-to-9-1-1 service provided by the four wireless companies is the current short-message-service-based texting option and has limitations. Because SMS texting is a “best efforts” service not designed for emergency communications, it does not provide automatic location or caller information. There’s no guarantee that a series of messages will be delivered in the proper order or that the message will even be delivered to the PSAP.

> Discover CAPCOG's Emergency Communications Division

Texting to 9-1-1 is a viable option, however, when it’s not safe for the caller to speak or if the caller is hearing- or speech-impaired and requires help.Voice calls to 9-1-1 remain the most efficient way to reach emergency help, allowing the call taker to quickly ask questions and obtain additional information from the caller. So even when text-to-9-1-1 is available, callers should continue to contact 9-1-1 by making a voice call if they can and use text only if voice is not a feasible or safe option.

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