We've been hearing about new capabilities for emergency 911 services for years, but it looks like the industry is ready to move as one to make text-to-911 a reality across the US. The Big Four wireless carriers, as well as The 911 Association and the Association for Public-Safety Communications Officials International has submitted an agreement to the FCC that outlines plans to work together on standards, procedures and technology deployments that will provide a "seamless introduction" of the tech across the US.
They're not guaranteeing it will be available everywhere in two years, but the specific signposts noted are support for bounce-back notifications by June 30th, 2013 that tell texters when the service isn't available in their area and a "commitment" to nationwide rollouts by May 15th, 2014. So far, efforts to make your thumbs more useful in an emergency have been disjointed, but a concerted effort by industry giants should let you avoid busy signals and dropped calls at the worst possible time sooner rather than later. Check out a press release from the group, as well as a word from the FCC (which will consider the proposal on December 12th), after the break or the agreement itself in PDF form at the source link.
"BIG 4" WIRELESS CARRIERS WILL DEPLOY TEXT-TO-9-1-1 CAPABILITIES ON THEIR NETWORKS IN 2014
Text-to-9-1-1 capabilities will arrive on the networks of the "Big 4" wireless carriers in 2014 under an historic agreement reached today between NENA - The 9-1-1 Association, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and the Association for Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO). The agreement was submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is scheduled to discuss the issue and consider further action at its upcoming meeting on December 12.
The agreement does not mean that text-to-9 1 1 service will be available to all consumers by 2014; that will hinge on the deployment of hardware, software, and training at the more than 6,000 9-1-1 centers across America.
However, the agreement is expected to hasten the day when all Americans can call for emergency aid via text messages. Text-to-9-1-1 capabilities are especially sought by people in the hearing and speech disabilities communities.
"As the public becomes more mobile and embraces new methods for communicating, 9-1-1 has to be ready to answer non-voice requests for assistance," said NENA President Barbara Jaeger, ENP. "This historic agreement demonstrates the shared commitment of parties to serve the evolving needs of citizens in the digital age."
Under the agreement, the parties will work together and with all stakeholders from industry, government, public safety, and consumer groups to develop the technical standards and operational procedures that will ensure a seamless introduction of texting into 9-1-1 centers across America. Specific provisions include:
Text-to-9-1-1 service capabilities will be deployed throughout the carriers' wireless networks by May 15, 2014;
Bounce-back notifications will be sent to subscribers by June 30, 2013 when text-to-9-1-1 is unavailable in their area; and
Text-to-9-1-1 progress reports will be submitted quarterly by the carriers to NENA and APCO.
The agreement also includes a commitment by all parties to educate the public about how and when they can send texts to 9-1-1.
"It is critically important that the public be reminded that the best way to reach 9-1-1 is still via voice communications," added Jaeger.
FCC CHAIRMAN JULIUS GENACHOWSKI ANNOUNCES COMMITMENT BY MAJOR U.S.
WIRELESS CARRIERS & PUBLIC SAFETY LEADERS TO ACCELERATE NATIONWIDE
TEXT-TO-911 SERVICES; CALLS FOR CONTINUED ENGAGEMENT WITH FCC ON NEXT-
GENERATION 9-1-1 INITIATIVES
Voluntary agreement responds to Chairman Genachowski's call for action to enable nationwide text-
to-911 for all Americans "as quickly as possible"
Washington, D.C. – FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced today that the nation's four largest
wireless carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile – have agreed to accelerate the availability of text-
to-911, with major deployments expected in 2013 and a commitment to nationwide availability by May
15, 2014. Building on text-to-911 deployments and trials that are already underway, this agreement will
accelerate progress and ensure that over 90 percent of the nation's wireless consumers, including millions
of consumers with hearing or speech disabilities, will be able to access emergency services by sending a
text message to 911, where local 911 call centers (known as a Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs)
are also prepared to receive the texts.
Text-to-911 will provide consumers with enhanced access to emergency communications in
situations where a voice call could endanger the caller, or a person with disabilities is unable to make a
voice call. Text-to-911 will be a complement to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 911 services, and
consumers should always make a voice call to 911 during an emergency if they can.
In addition, to help eliminate consumer confusion while text-to-911 capability is being phased-in,
the carriers have committed to provide an automatic "bounce back" text message to notify consumers if
their attempt to reach 911 via text message was unsuccessful because this service is not yet available in
their area. Such a message would instruct the recipient to make a voice call to a 911 center. The four
carriers will fully implement this "bounce back" capability across their networks by June 30, 2013.
The Commission will take additional action as necessary to ensure the public's ability to reach
911 using text messaging. Next week, the FCC will consider steps towards ensuring that text-to-911 is
made available as soon as possible by all carriers, and over-the-top providers who offer Internet-based
text services. The Commission will continue to work with all stakeholders including 911 authorities,
PSAPs, the Emergency Access Advisory Committee, public safety organizations, disability organizations,
consumer groups and industry on this issue.
Today, Chairman Genachowski said, "Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers
communicate in the 21st century – and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal. Last year I
announced a comprehensive plan to accelerate the transition to Next Generation 911, including text-to-
911, and the FCC has acted to advance this effort.
"I also called on the communications industry and public safety entities to work together to
enable nationwide text-to-911 as quickly as possible, and I am pleased that the nation's four largest
wireless carriers and leading public safety organizations have responded with today's commitment, which
will save lives starting in 2013.
"This is good progress, but our work is not done. Next week the FCC will consider further
actions to advance text-to-911 for all consumers. We will also take additional steps in this area next year,
including closely monitoring carriers' compliance with the commitments they have made today and
addressing other aspects of Next Generation 911 such as enabling transmission of photos and videos to 9-
1-1 centers. We are also working to strengthen the resiliency and reliability of the existing 911 system,
where significant deficiencies were revealed by this summer's Derecho."
"I would like to thank all those involved in developing today's important agreement."
In his 2011 address to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) about
Next Generation 911 (NG911) services, which includes but is not limited to text, Chairman Genachowski
said, "Getting NG911 up and running is going to take a lot of work on the part of a lot of people. Without
a comprehensive and coordinated strategy, we'll see a patchwork deployment of NG911 over the next 5 to
10 years, with much of the United States still without any NG911 capability at the end of that period.
That's not the right outcome. It's imperative that NG911 be deployed to all Americans as quickly as
possible, and in the most effective and cost-efficient way."