The time has come! May 15, 2014 marked another milestone in the continual enhancement of 9-1-1 service to the public. The four largest national wireless carriers support interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1, a significant leap forward in the growing attention to the transition from E9-1-1 to NG9-1-1. Together, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO) and National Emergency Number Association (NENA) as well as the commercial carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, and Verizon) demonstrated their desire and ability to serve the public welfare. The focus now turns to the implementation of interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 within the public safety answering points, or PSAPs.

While this task may seem daunting, expensive, or too technology forward, several options for implementing interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 are available to PSAPs nationwide that need to comply with this new standard. But why make this transition?

Interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 sets a new precedent for the continuing progression of public safety and 9-1-1 emergency service. Over 1,000,000 texts a year are received by carriers in an attempt to reach 9-1-1 call takers. Incidents in the past, in particular, active shooting situations such as at Virginia Tech in 2007 have proven the need for this service. The value of 9-1-1 text messages has also been cited in multiple domestic dispute incidents as well as in intruder situations. Interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 provides a means to reach 9-1-1 centers when a voice call would endanger the caller, or is not possible. In a broader scope, interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 also stands to make a significant difference for the entire deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired community. Currently at over 11% of the United States’ population, this community is constantly challenged with how to communicate emergencies to 9-1-1. Interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 stands to dramatically change the way members of the deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired community are able to provide information to emergency responders and ultimately save lives.

Voluntary agreement of the national wireless carriers to support Interim SMS Text-to-9-1-1 has been achieved, and development of infrastructure is in progress to accommodate this change. So where do we go from here? As of May 15, 9-1-1 text messages sent from citizens and transported over the national wireless carriers networks will be capable of being sent on to PSAPs, but are they ready to receive them or will a “Bounce Back” message be returned to the person in need that’s sending the 9-1-1 text? Options including Text-to-TTY/TDD, Web Service, and an ESInet/IP Network Service Interface are alternatives for agencies to explore and determine what works best for them in order to implement this change. Spanning various budget limitations with a variety of diverse feature sets to make the most out of this new inflow of information, agencies now have the ability to advance to the next generation of public safety and 9-1-1 emergency service.

Dan Sawicki is the Director of Product Management, Motorola Solutions Inc., Government Solutions and Services (GSS) business. Dan Sawicki has more than thirty years of telecommunications experience serving in various roles spanning strategy, product management, front-end requirements definition/planning, advanced manufacturing and quality management. Sawicki also represents MSI on the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) Board of Directors.

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