Thumbs up to emergency texting
Facing a need to enable its speech- and hearing-impaired residents to communicate directly with 9-1-1 call takers in an emergency, last year Black Hawk County, Iowa, adopted next-generation 9-1-1 capabilities that allow its emergency call centers to receive text messages. The technology also helps others who find themselves in circumstances where texting is the best and safest available means to contact 9-1-1.
The text messaging pilot project began in early 2009, and in August 2009, the service went live. The technology uses an augmented commercial short message service infrastructure from a wireless carrier in the state. Longmont, Colo.-based Intrado developed the Internet Protocol network and emergency text gateway that accepts and routes the messages to the correct public safety answering point (PSAP). The PSAP also needed minor upgrades to its call handling equipment so the text message could be displayed on the call-taker’s monitor.
Although texting to 9-1-1 will not replace the current public safety response provided by voice call operations, it has proven useful in protecting residents from possible harm. In one instance, a woman used her cell phone to send a text message to 9-1-1 when her former boyfriend — who had assaulted her in the past — entered her residence. Texting allowed the woman to communicate with the 9-1-1 call taker without speaking, which may have revealed her location in the home to the intruder. Police officers were dispatched to the woman’s residence, where the former boyfriend was arrested for violating a “no contact” order.
For her leadership in the 9-1-1 text messaging project, Judy Flores, director of the Black Hawk Consolidated Communications Center, recently received the “Government Leader Award” at the 7th Annual “9-1-1 Honors Gala” in Washington. The Government Leader Award recognizes the efforts of federal, state and local officials in developing and implementing public policy to advance the capabilities of 9-1-1 emergency communications.
“Public safety must be able to support 9-1-1 text messaging,” Flores says. “Enabling 9-1-1 systems to accept text messages not only helps protect sensory impaired callers, but helps to satisfy the expectations of millions of people in the U.S. who rely on standard text messaging as a regular means of communication and assume the service is already widely available.”
Project: 9-1-1 Text Messaging
County: Black Hawk County, Iowa
Agency: Black Hawk Consolidated Communications Center in Waterloo
Vendors: Longmont, Colo.-based Intrado Inc.; Marshalltown, Iowa-based RACOM Corp.
Date completed: August 2009