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GCN : April 2015
30 GCN APRIL 2015 • GCN.COM Since January, people in Eagle County, Colo., have been able to send text messages to emergency responders through a new text-to-911 service. Now officials are just waiting for the first emergency texts to start trickling in. “We wanted to offer that functionality to our citizens because it was something that was already expected,” said Jennifer Kirkland, operations support supervisor at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center. “It’s also something that we wanted to offer for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. It gives them parity of access to 911, where they don’t have to call a relay service or use a TDD machine. They can just access 911 like any other citizen.” The county worked with TeleCommunication Systems’ Geospatial Emergency Manager 911, a web-based hosted solution, so no additional technology was needed. The system is accessed via a website, and each person must sign in to receive texts. When someone texts 911, TCS routes the message to the correct Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), or 911 center. A chime and a visual alert then opens a chat session on the PSAP worker’s web browser. Staff can reply by typing on the keyboard or selecting a pre-written message from a drop-down menu. “It works just like any other text relationship that you might have with a friend or a relative,” Kirkland said. “The first text we send back when we receive one says, ‘A voice call is best, but go ahead with your text if you’re unable to call, and what is the location of your emergency?’” “Text-to-911 is ideal for some situations, but a voice call lets call takers pick up on auditory cues, she added. “You just don’t have the same relationship with a text,” Kirkland said. Currently, the county’s text-to-911 program supports only data that comes in by Short Message Service, not videos or photos. It’s accessible via any device that uses the major carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. No one has sent 911 a text yet, Kirkland said, perhaps because people aren’t conditioned yet to think to do that. Also, “I think most people actually prefer to call than text,” she said. — Stephanie Kanowitz Eagle County ready for text-to-911 ally, really enjoyed it.” Dwight Henninger, Vail’s police chief, that it’s usually difficult to make a sim- ple phone call from the race site. “ What we’ve been able to accomplish this week with really having great, comfortable technology that we need to share data back and forth...has been really posi- tive,” he said. The idea for the demonstration first arose from Vail’s police chief in June 2014, and the green light for it came from FirstNet and the Federal Com- munications Commission, on Oct. 16. Strategy work began in November, and “we really stood the network up in about two to three weeks,” Shepherd said. Looking ahead, Shepherd said he wants to get approval from FirstNet to make Col- orado’s special temporary authorization to use the Band 14 permanent. “One of the key things we saw from the demonstration network is the im- mediate need for this,” Shepherd said. “I think a lot of us in the states have been talking for a while about how this type of network would be a nice-to-have thing. I think one of the key takeaways, from my perspective, is that this tech- nology is pretty much a need-to-have right now.” Still, some kinks would need to be worked out. For instance, police officers can’t per- form crowd control duties while look- ing at a smart phone, said Kim Coleman Madsen, FirstNet Colorado public safety broadband manager. Instead, two offi- cers would be needed: One to watch the crowd and the other the phone. Not to mention the negative response the public would have to officers staring at mobile devices, she added. “ The as- sumption is maybe he’s looking at the Internet,” Coleman Madsen said. Another area for further investigation is how this technology could replace current voice communication among first responders, she said. “ We had re- ally positive feedback wanting to use the technology in place of their mission- critical voice, which we would not en- courage or support at this point.” Right now, the ball is in FirstNet’s court, Shepherd said. In January, the state attended a FirstNet Initial Consul- tation Meeting at which 120 represen- tatives met with FirstNet officials to talk about planning the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN). “My overall takeaway is that Colora- do is dedicated and committed to mak- ing the NPSBN a success in their state,” Dave Buchanan, the authority’s director of state consultation, wrote in a blog post. • INTEROPERABLE COMM FIRSTNET 0415gcn_028-030.indd 30 3/30/15 9:36 AM