August 6, 2009

Texting 911

An emergency call center in Waterloo, Iowa has launched the nation's first system that will allow people to send text messages to 911 during emergencies.

Black Hawk County police chief Thomas Jennings told the Associated Press that the emergency texting system should be beneficial for residents with hearing impairments.

"I think there's a need to get out front and get this technology available," said Jennings.

Emergency centers in other regions of the US are paying close attention to the Black Hawk Consolidated Public Safety Communications Center, as many are hoping to rollout a similar system in the near future.

"The successful testing of text messaging to 9-1-1 from a wireless telephone is a tremendous emergency services advancement for individuals who have sensory disabilities," said Richard Ray, chair of the National Emergency Number Association's (NENA) Accessibility Committee. "I urge public safety agencies to accelerate the deployment of this technology and to encourage, support and celebrate efforts such as this."

Text messaging is becoming an increasingly popular method of communication.  CTIA estimates that SMS text messages topped one trillion in 2008.

John Snapp, senior technical officer of Intrado, one of the companies behind the system upgrade, told the AP that texting should still be the public's most preferred method of contacting 911.

"This effort was driven by our desire to support the public safety needs of the speech and hearing impaired," said George Heinrichs, Intrado president. "This breakthrough will not only enhance their safety but the safety of others who find themselves in special circumstances where texting is the best available means to contact 9-1-1."


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