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Cassidian & Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Text Messaging to 9-1-1 Trial a Success

Date: 2011-06-20
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  • Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network (GHC 9-1-1) is moving forward with receiving text messages
  • Deaf and hard of hearing population in greater Houston area to reap benefits of next generation 9-1-1 technologies
  • Prototype testing resulted in better than expected results with integration with the VESTA® call processing platform expected by the end of the year

Emergency communications leader, Cassidian Communications, an EADS North America company, and Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network (GHC 9-1-1), have announced the successful advanced text messaging trial using the company’s next generation (NG)9-1-1 emergency response call processing platform, VESTA®. The trial involved the receipt and processing of text messages from within the Houston area. Although the general public believes the capability for short message service (SMS) also known as text messages to 9-1-1 should be available today, many elements of the telecommunications infrastructure have not been able to process these types of messages until now.

“There have been, and unfortunately will continue to be critical emergency events in which a standard voice-enabled telephone call may not be optimum to request assistance. It’s in these situations where a text message into a 9-1-1 call center may prove to be beneficial,” said Dave Rutan, chief executive officer, Cassidian Communications. “We have tested text messaging capabilities on our VESTA platform in Texas for more than 60 days, pushing the technological limits of what can be accomplished in the delivery of text messages. This is a work in progress for us and for the public safety industry; however, the successful trial moves us all forward by demonstrating our ability to handle text messages from any of our next generation platforms with any SMS-enabled device on any wireless service provider.”

The simulation utilized five emergency call centers with two call-taking positions each, which were physically situated in GHC 9-1-1 emergency training center, which serves as a backup call center. The creation of a short code was used for the trial.

With support from four local cellular phone service providers, the trial consisted of various emergency text messaging scenarios originating throughout the county. The testing during the trial utilized automatic location identification (ALI) capabilities allowing for the call takers to identify the location of the caller.

“We sent our technicians out to some very rural areas as well as outside of our jurisdiction to ensure the technology was working,” said Stan Heffernan, chief operations officer, Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network. “It’s imperative that coverage is available throughout our vicinity to serve our large deaf and hard of hearing impaired population. This trial allowed us to study various scenarios to ensure the SMS technology was operational and that the message was received with acceptable message delivery times and it was.” 

Heffernan continued, “Many operational implementation and procedure related elements remain to be discussed and ultimately implemented. GHC 9-1-1 has a NG9-1-1 committee made up of representatives of emergency call centers throughout our territory, who are addressing this as we speak.”

It is anticipated that the technology will be available to the deaf and hard of hearing population in the GHC 9-1-1 territory within a year and subsequently will be offered to the rest of the population. More information and education on how the service works and how residents will need to register for the service will be made available to the community at the appropriate time.

“Calling 9-1-1 is still the best method to reach emergency call centers in an emergency; however, sending a text message when voice is not an option can be very beneficial,” Heffernan stated. “That is why we need to continue to test our systems and push for the technology as every second counts when lives are on the line.”

The GHC 9-1-1 Emergency Network consists of nearly 50 emergency call centers serving residents from 49 cities, including Houston, in both Harris and Fort Bend counties. The call centers receive over 10,000 calls on a daily basis, of which up to 73 percent are from wireless phones. The call centers also are responsible for dispatching calls to over 150 police, fire and emergency medical agencies in the area.

- Corporate News/ (via Cassidian Communications, 6/20/11)



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