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GCN : March 2013
30 GCN MARCH 2013 • GCN.COM CASE STUDY through which telecom carriers will con- nect with the state IP network. • An Emergency Services Routing Proxy (ESRP) that will use location information from incoming 911 calls to determine rout- ing to the appropriate PSAP. • An Emergency Communications Routing Function (ECRF) that will use caller loca- tion to determine the appropriate PSAP. • In the legacy 911 system, location in- formation is primarily static address data stored in an Automatic Location Informa- tion (ALI) database. The ECRF will incor- porate all types of geographic location data, including GPS and triangulation data generated by the carriers for mobile devices, which will be used to determine the proper answering point for the call, and which will be forwarded with calls and text messages. Redundant gateways are located in con- trol centers in Knoxville and Nashville. Carriers are being brought onto the sys- tem in phases, focusing on new technology first and leaving the legacies for last, said Questell. "We're doing the wireless and VOIP first, and leaving the wireline infrastructure in place, so we can revert to it in case of emer- gency," she said. In 2014 the wireline ser- vices will be moved to the new infrastruc- ture, along with the ALI database, which will be integrated into a single intelligent geolocation system. AT&T and TCS are building network links to PSAPs as they become ready. The first answering centers to move onto the system are volunteers; others will come online as they are able to upgrade to i3 ca- pable equipment needed to bring in the IP NG911 services. The first generation of NG911 services, which will be SMS text messages, can be displayed on current TDD equipment in PSAPs. But upgrading the terminals will create more flexibility, displaying the texts in their native format rather than the caps-only display used for TDD. Because of aggressive outreach by the Emergency Communications Board, Questell said acceptance of the new state service model for 911 has been good. "Any uncertainty in a PSAP is a bad thing," she said. But the message has been going out for years now and the advantages of the new technology are evident enough that "we've had a great deal of enthusiasm." Still, "we are going to move cautiously" bringing the new services onboard, she added. One thing that is likely to smooth the adoption of text-to-911 and other next generation services is the presence of a state board overseeing the project and the creation of a statewide service rather than islands of technology in separate jurisdic- tions. "We think in the long run," Questell said, "this uniform 911 will provide more benefits." • A text message to 911 is a valuable capability to have in an emergency, but it is still a text message, subject to all of the limitations of texting. Even as states and the telecom industry begin implementing text-to-911 ser- vices, voice will remain the preferred medium for reporting emergencies, o cials say. The move to 911 texting has speeded up, with several statewide text-to-911 pilot programs, agree- ments by major carriers to make 911 texting a reality nationally, and proposed rules from the Federal Communications Commission that would require service providers to enable text services. "Only use text if you can t call," advises Lynn Questell, executive director of the Emergency Commu- nications Board in Tennessee, where the new text service is coming online. In Vermont, which in 2012 enabled text-to-911 with one carrier statewide and now is piloting the service with a second, the number of emergency texts received so far has been small. "It s a myth that this is going to result in everybody sending text messages rather than calling 911," said David Tucker, executive director of the state s Enhanced 911 Board. "That s not true. Making a voice call is still the best way to contact 911." Text-to-911 o ers advantages for those with speech and hearing dis- abilities who are using SMS texting as an alternative to specialized equip- ment such as Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD). And it could be useful in situations where it might be inconvenient or impractical to make voice calls. But, as the FCC notes in its recent notice of proposed rulemaking, text- to-911 service "is and will remain a complement to, rather than a sub- stitute for, voice 911 service. The voice 911 system that has been maintained and improved over decades remains the preferred means in most instances of seeking help in an emergency," Tucker said. "Therefore, even as we take this first major step in the transition to NG911, we continue to encourage all consumers seeking emergency help to access 911 by voice whenever possible." According to Vermont s Enhanced 911 Board, the limitations of text- to-911 include: • Text messaging is a "best e orts" service, with no guarantee that a message will be sent, delivered or received in a timely manner, if at all. • Even when the message goes through promptly, texting to 911 can take longer than making a voice call because it has to be typed, as do any responses, using up critical time. • To make the message as clear as possible, common text abbreviations and slang (OMG) should not be used in an emergency message, which adds to the length of the message and the time required to type it. • In some implementations, those receiving the messages will not have access to automated location informa- tion, so accurate location information must be included in the body of the text, as well as specific information on the type of emergency, so that this information can be passed along to local first responders. • 911 texts have the same 160-char- acter limit as other text messages, reducing the amount of information that can be sent in one message. • Emergency texts can be sent only in areas where the Public Safety Answering Points have the ability to receive them. (To help inform users, major wireless carriers have agreed to begin sending bounce-back error messages next year to senders when a 911 text cannot be delivered to a public service answering point.) --- William Jackson