Text-to-911: New Technology a Challenge for Local Emergency Centers
The National Emergency Numbering Association says there are more than 6000 emergency call centers in the United States, but less than one percent of them can accept text messages.
Less than one percent of 911 call centers nationwide can accept emergency text messages.
Unlike many states, there is no network of 911 centers in Georgia; each county or city has its own system. And that means each will have to work with technology vendors – the cell phone companies — to institute Text-to-911.
First, the vendors will have to make the technology available; that should happen by March 2014, according to Cobb Emergency Communications Director Ann Flynn. “There are three or four different technologies that each 911 center will need to research and each center will decide which is best for the technology that they have available,” said Flynn.
Cobb County hopes to have the service in place by 2015, but it will be county specific. So instead of texting 911, you will have to text a prefix and then the number: for example “CC911,” “CC” standing for Cobb County.
That is just one reason Flynn hopes the service will be used only as a fallback. “A person in a domestic situation who’s hiding under the bed or hiding in the closet who does not want to be found,” said Flynn “any situation where speaking might put them in danger.”
Flynn says the phone will continue to be the best choice, because the 911 operator can glean information from the caller’s tone of voice, and even background noise, in addition to what the caller is saying.
The City of Atlanta is considering including Text-to-911 as part of its scheduled technology update in fiscal year 2014. Fulton County says it is looking at the service but has no definite target date. DeKalb says it hasn’t decided yet whether it will implement Text-to-911. Gwinnett and Clayton Counties say the service is not currently part of their emergency communications plans.
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