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Durham 9-1-1 Center Extends Texting Trial for Emergency Help

Date: 2012-01-30
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Trial Period Extended to April 30th for Verizon Wireless Customers

In order to continue to gauge the effectiveness of the new“text-to-9-1-1” technology, the Durham Emergency Communications Center and Verizon Wireless are extending the trial period beyond the January 31st deadline to now end on April 30, 2012.

In August 2011, Durham residents and visitors who were also Verizon Wireless customers could send a text message to 9-1-1 for emergency help as part of a trial to test the potential of permanently offering this new technology. In order to have more data to determine whether this technology will be offered beyond the trial period, the Center will now accept emergency texts until the end of April.

According to James Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center , this texting trial is still specifically designed for two types of emergency scenarios. “When asked to participate in this trial, we went into it as an opportunity to help potential victims who can't afford for someone to hear them make a 9-1-1 voice call as well as for deaf or hard of hearing residents who may be unable to speak to a telecommunicator,” Soukup said.

Since the“text-to-9-1-1” is still a trial program, Soukup reiterated that there are several parameters that users should be aware of before sending an emergency text message to 9-1-1. “At times, there can be limitations to sending an emergency text message and we that’s why we are extending the trial period by three months so we can test and evaluate all of the aspects of this technology before any potential widespread use,” Soukup said. “We understand the interest and potential value of this technology, but given the needs of public safety, it is imperative that we thoroughly examine all scenarios during the trial period to see if this type of technology works and if any problems arise that must be corrected before ‘text-to-9-1-1’ technology could be implemented on a widespread level.”

According to Jan Withers, director of the Division of Services for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, this type of service is an excellent option for residents who may have no other way to communicate during an emergency. “Many deaf and hard of hearing people rely on text as their sole means of communication and therefore currently have limited means of contacting 9-1-1 call centers for emergencies,” Withers said. “A national survey of people with disabilities found that 80 percent of the respondents would prefer to contact 9-1-1 using text. Given these facts, the significance of Durham ’s text-to-9-1-1 trial program cannot be overstated. The Durham Emergency Communications Center , Verizon, and Intrado are to be applauded for giving priority to the safety of Durham ’s estimated 28,000 deaf and hard of hearing people.”

Verizon Wireless customers in Durham should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 9-1-1 during the extended trial period:

  • Customers should use the texting option only when calling 9-1-1 is not an option.
  • It can take longer to receive a text message because someone must enter the text, the message then goes through the system, and the 9-1-1 telecommunicator must read the text and then text back. Picking up the phone and calling 9-1-1 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.
  • Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative since the Durham Emergency Communications Center will not be able to access the cell phone location or speak with the person who is sending the text. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
  • Customers must be in range of cell towers in the Durham County area. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Durham Emergency Communications Center .
  • Texts sent to 9-1-1 have the same 160 character limit as other text messages.
  • Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. Any text message to 9-1-1 will count either against their messaging bundle or be charged at 20 cents each.
  • At this point in the trial period, the messaging software pre-loaded onto the Droid from Motorola (original version) does not format text messages correctly When the digits 9-1-1 are entered as the “To”address. Installing the free “Verizon Messages” application for Droids (version 1.3.24a) from the Android Market fixes this issue.
  • The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire, or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Durham Emergency Communication Center through its non-emergency line.

The trial test is part of a collaboration between the City of Durham , Verizon Wireless, and Intrado. Intrado, which is an emergency communications technology provider, installed next-generation 9-1-1 software at the Durham Emergency Communications Center in 2011, which now enables text messaging between the center and Verizon Wireless customers.

The Durham Emergency Communication Center is the first 9-1-1 center in North Carolina , as well as the second 9-1-1 center in the United States, to enable“text-to-9-1-1” technology using 9-1-1 digits and live call takers. The first and only other 9-1-1 center using Intrado’s technology is Black Hawk County, Iowa. The “text-to-9-1-1” software extended trial period is still at no cost to the Durham Emergency Communications Center .

For more information about the “text-to-9-1-1” extended trial, visit the City’s website here.

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via City of Durham, 1/25/12)

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