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Text-to-9-1-1 Is Here. Is Your PSAP Ready?

Author: Diamond Chaflawee & Darren Terry, NICE Systems

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,

Date: 2014-06-02
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It all started with ‘Merry Christmas.’ On December 3, 1992 the first text message was sent. It was a simple holiday greeting: Merry Christmas. Now considered a staple of everyday communications, texting and its language of acronyms have become so prevalent that most people can’t remember life without it.

To understand just how ubiquitous texting is, the Wireless Association reports that Americans sent 2.2 trillion text messages in 2012. It is estimated that adults aged 18-34 receive an average of 1,000 to 2,000 text messages per month. People cite efficiency, discretion, and the ability to link information sources as reasons they prefer texting to phone calls. Given how ingrained texting has become with modern society and the inherent necessity of texting for certain segments of the population (e.g. the deaf or hard of hearing) for communicating during emergencies, the ability to text-to-911 is a logical extension of this trend.

 

Introducing text-to-911 to PSAPs

In June 2009, Black Hawk County, Iowa became the first PSAP to accept text-to-911 as a viable option for reporting emergencies. Today, of more than 6,000 PSAPs across the nation, only a handful are able to handle text-to-911 communications. Currently only Vermont is text-to-911-ready statewide, while 15 states have one or several counties that accept text-to-911 communications. But with a concerted effort by the FCC, this is expected to rapidly change. As of May 15, 2014, the four major carriers in the U.S. – Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile – all voluntarily committed to provide text-to-911 as a service in all areas where 9-1-1 call centers are prepared to receive them.

While text-to-911 is not the preferred form of communication to an emergency call center – telephony calls are still the most effective – its value is undeniable. In Vermont first responders were able to save an individual’s life during an attempted suicide as the person texted to 9-1-1. No doubt, more examples such as this will arise as the service becomes more widely available.

Conceptually, text-to-911 is a milestone on the complex roadmap to NG9-1-1. It involves a host of stakeholders outside of the direct PSAP environment. Carriers, hardware and software vendors, regulatory bodies (FCC and others), the PSAP network and more must continue to work together to create the infrastructure that will enable NG9-1-1 as they have done with text-to-911.  

 

It’s all part of NG9-1-1

Conceptually, text-to-911 is a milestone on the complex roadmap to NG9-1-1. It involves a host of stakeholders outside of the direct PSAP environment. Carriers, hardware and software vendors, regulatory bodies (FCC and others), the PSAP network and more must continue to work together to create the infrastructure that will enable NG9-1-1 as they have done with text-to-911. 

For the first time since the 9-1-1 emergency service was established, multimedia is entering the PSAP, exposing call takers to means of communications other than voice. This is a major paradigm shift that affects not only the interactions between the texter in need of emergency service and the service provider, but also how dispatch and response will be managed. A simple thing like location information can be more accurately and easily verified over the phone than with text communications.

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PSAPs not only need to be prepared to handle text-to-911 communications, they must also have the infrastructure to capture and record them. This required software and hardware vendors to develop technology to effectively log text-to-911 communications, along with other forms of media that will soon be flooding into PSAPs as NG9-1-1 implementations take place.

 

Why logging is so important

Just as call logging is essential for PSAP voice communications, the same is true for text-to-911 (and for that matter any other type of interaction). And it’s not just about liability protection or investigation and prosecution. Incident reconstruction, quality assurance and even training all rely on and benefit from an effective and reliable logging solution. The ability to reconstruct an incident, including every bit of information and media related to that incident, from start to finish in an accurate timeline can be invaluable.

With the ability to not only log communications, but also organize them in a synchronized timeline, PSAPs can identify performance gaps and best practices. These same incident files can be used for identification purposes and evidence by law enforcement. As progress toward NG9-1-1 continues, it will also be essential to capture other forms of media that will be part of daily PSAP communications, including images, video, and of course texts.

PSAPs not only need to be prepared to handle text-to-911 communications, they must also have the infrastructure to capture and record them. This required software and hardware vendors to develop technology to effectively log text-to-911 communications, along with other forms of media that will soon be flooding into PSAPs as NG9-1-1 implementations take place. 

 
Logging text-to-911

All PSAPs already have an audio logging system, which not only captures content, but also call metadata such as ALI/ANI information. Text can be viewed in the same manner. It’s slim in content and has metadata very similar to audio, which makes it easy to store in an existing or separate interaction database. And depending on the system, existing user interfaces can still be used to display text and play voice calls without the need for significant personnel training.

However, unlike voice recording, there is no option to passively tap a text feed; an alternative feed must be established. Below are several ways that this can be done (ATIS STD J-110 as a an i3 subset describes the delivery method of text into the PSAP.”)

  • NG9-1-1 call routing element, either at the PSAP or elsewhere in the ESInet
  • Call processing equipment or CAD at the PSAP
  • Web-based text-to-911 application from a 911 text aggregator (TCC)

A call routing element or local CPE/CAD will likely provide a text logging feed according to the NG9-1-1 i3 specification produced by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). This outlines a method for including text messages in the SIP recording feed.

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When a PSAP receives text-to-911 via a web application from a TCC, it might not support the NENA text logging feed. In this situation, a proprietary feed can be established for logging at the PSAP.

 

Regional logging systems

When a region has a consolidated CEP/CAD application serving several PSAPs across an ESInet, it is possible to add text-to-911 logging to the ESInet at the regional centers either on its own or in conjunction with voice recording. 

In the event that a PSAP handles text using a local CPE/CAD application, an on-premises text logging solution can be deployed to log texts handled by the PSAP.

A regional solution might provide a more efficient use of resources and works well where smaller PSAPs divert calls to other sites at peak times or when understaffed. However it requires more planning and coordination between PSAPs and their operating procedures. PSAPs with high call volumes or regions where operating procedures and legal constraints vary from PSAP to PSAP are best served with on-premises solutions.

The first deployed systems will require vendor cooperation to ensure all participants can operate together. As more systems are installed there’s no doubt standards will continue to evolve, making the process smoother and certainly easier for all parties involved.

While text-to-911 is still in its early days, it is clear that it can provide advantages to the public and the PSAP. Not only does it allow PSAPs to expand their service, it also provides an additional perspective and potentially more information about an incident. An incident that begins with a call could continue with text communication from multiple users, or visa-versa, in particular when a major event is taking place. Text-to-911 gives a voice to those who otherwise might be silent. 

Text-to-911 is just the start

As mentioned above, text-to-911 is just one milestone on the path to NG9-1-1. In addition to text, PSAPs will soon receive other forms of communication, such as videos, MMS, images, and telephony, all potentially related to a single incident. Scenarios in which someone photographs or takes video of an emergency event and concurrently calls 911 to relay the incident are likely. Other information pertaining to the incident, such as texts from other eyewitnesses, video surveillance footage, recorded communications, and captured call-taker screens, might also be available. In short, there is a plethora of different media that could be involved in recreating a single large-scale incident.

PSAPs will need a logging solution that can capture, record and synchronize all of this information accurately. In preparation for NG9-1-1, some vendors have already introduced solutions, such as NICE Inform, to help PSAPs consolidate and manage all of this data for incident reconstruction and Quality Assurance (QA).

With PSAPs handling more varied and complex communications, QA is going to be more important than ever. PSAPs will need to closely monitor how call takers handle these new multimedia communications to identify any learning gaps. All of this comes back to having the right solutions in place to capture and reconstruct these communications.

If your PSAP is preparing for text-to-911 and NG9-1-1, here are some frequently asked questions to help you prepare from a logging standpoint.

1. What do I need to ask my text-to-911 vendor?

In order to log text communication, the text handling application needs to provide a logging feed. Ask your text handling application vendor if it can support:

  • NENA’s i3 logging interface
  • A proprietary text-logging interface

Your logging vendor will need this information to provide an applicable quote. A NENA i3 logging interface is likely to be the most cost-effective solution as it will be common to many vendors.

2. Where should I store my texts?

  • In the cloud with a web-based text feed. Cloud-based storage is a good solution if you use a web-based application. If the cloud vendor is out of state, make sure you understand the data protection and subpoena laws between your state or county and the cloud vendor.
  • In CAD/RMS. Storage in an existing CAD or RMS database is another option for text communication storage, but these systems might not integrate with your existing voice logging investigation tools, making investigations more complex.
  • In an integrated NG9-1-1-ready logging solution. Adopting an integrated NG9-1-1-ready logging system (such as NICE Inform, pictured below) is a sound investment as it provides a platform for supporting other NG9-1-1 features as they become standard. This type of solution will capture all field interactions and provide a single investigation tool for all types of communication sent to the PSAP.
  •  

3. What other features should I be looking for?

Make sure the incident reconstruction interface is capable of synchronizing text communications with other multimedia, such as audio, screen, GIS, and video. Providing a complete authentic picture of the incident, including the text interaction, is crucial for both investigation and QA purposes.

4. I already have a voice logging system. Do I need to replace it to get text logging?

No. If your existing voice logging system is already based on a flexible multimedia architecture (such as one incorporating NICE’s Inform architecture) you can add text logging and i3 capabilities while continuing to maximize current investments.

5. Do I need context analytics?

As multimedia interactions become more prevalent, context analytics will become more important as well. Context analytics enables you to analyze the text content and correlate it with audio analytics. It also allows you to identify incident related calls, as well as high-attention incidents and event trends.

 

About the authors:
Diamond Chaflawee is Director of Marketing and Business Development for Public Safety sector for NICE Systems, Inc. (www.nice.com) He has more than 10 years’ experience working for organizations in the public safety and government sectors. Diamond developed the NICE Inform technology, which provides an automated way for 9-1-1 centers to manage and reproduce multimedia information. NICE Inform has been adopted by thousands of public safety sites worldwide.  
Darren Terry is Technical Manager, Public Safety for NICE Systems. Darren has led development teams for products in public safety and logging systems for more than 20 years. In addition, Darren has architected systems using NICE Inform technology for some of the world’s largest public safety organizations.
Photos courtesy of NICE Systens.

 

 

 

 

 

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