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GCN : March 2013
28 GCN MARCH 2013 • GCN.COM The move to bring text messaging into the na- tion's 911 emergency call systems has sped up in the past year, with several state- wide text-to-911 pilot pro- grams, agreements by major carriers to make 911 texting a reality nationwide by 2014, and proposed rules from the Federal Communications Commission that would require all carriers and service providers to enable text services. In many of the nation's pub- lic service answering points (PSAPs) the majority of 911 calls already are being made from mobile phones, requiring updates in an emergency call scheme that was designed for tethered telephones in the leg- acy wireline system. However, for many cellular users, texting has become as common as voice calling, if not more so, putting pressure on 911 systems to fur- ther adapt to this new reality. Moving text onto 911 systems also would provide benefits for the 40 million speech and hear- ing impaired, who now must use special equipment to com- municate with 911 answering points via non-voice messages. "We propose to require all wireless carriers and providers of 'interconnected' text mes- saging applications to support the ability of consumers to send text messages to 911 in all areas throughout the nation where 911 Public Safety Answering Points are also prepared to re- ceive the texts," the FCC wrote in a notice of proposed rulemak- ing released in December 2012. The proposed FCC rules are based on an agreement reached then between major wireless carriers and public safety or- ganizations to begin providing text-to-911 service nationwide. The most commonly used pro- tocol for texting today is Short Message Service (SMS), and the carriers will use SMS-based text in their initial deployments. As the FCC proposal notes, enabling text-to-911 is a two- sided effort. Local PSAPs, which are run by state and local gov- ernments, must have the ability to receive text messages deliv- ered by carriers. And a number of states have begun putting programs and infrastructure in place to enable this service for local jurisdictions. In December, Vermont launched its second statewide text-to-911 pilot, which will let Sprint Wireless customers text emergency messages. The Sprint pilot follows a similar one with Verizon that began in April 2012 and has since be- come a permanent service, said David Tucker, executive direc- tor of the state's Enhanced 911 Board. Although the number of emergency texts in the first pilot was very small, "we had a cou- ple of successful interventions from people texting us," Tucker said. "It was on the strength of this that we decided to keep the system in place" and to follow it with a second pilot with anoth- er carrier. In Tennessee, an Emergency Service Intranet is being built on a statewide fiber optic Multi- protocol Label Switching IP net- work, which will provide Next Generation 911 as a state-run service to local PSAPs. "It is a major leap in a dif- ferent direction," said Thomas Ginter, vice president of prod- uct management at TeleCom- munications Systems (TCS), which will manage Tennessee's 911 network. "The state builds it and the state operates it," he said. OLD 911 SYSTEM IS UNWIELDY The statewide system became necessary not only to accommo- date new technologies but also because the old system of mul- As texting becomes a more widespread option for emergency messaging, states are putting the infrastructure in place to integrate the service into traditional 911 call centers IS YOUR 911 CENTER READY FOR TEXT MESSAGING? TELECOMMUNICATIONS CASE STUDY BY WILLIAM JACKSON