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FCC: "Big 4" Wireless Carriers Will Deploy Text-to-9-1-1 Capabilities on their Networks in 2014

Date: 2012-12-06
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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced that the nation’s four largest wireless carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile – have agreed to accelerate the availability of text-to-9-1-1, with major deployments expected in 2013 and a commitment to nationwide availability by May 15, 2014. Building on text-to-9-1-1 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 9-1-1, where local 9-1-1 call centers are also prepared to receive the texts.

Text-to-9-1-1 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-9-1-1 will be a complement to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 9-1-1 services, and consumers should always make a voice call to 9-1-1 during an emergency if they can.

In addition, to help eliminate consumer confusion while text-to-9-1-1 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 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 using text messaging. Next week, the FCC will consider steps towards ensuring that text-to-9-1-1 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 9-1-1 authorities, PSAPs, the Emergency Access Advisory Committee, public safety organizations, disability organizations, consumer groups and industry on this issue.

“Access to 9-1-1 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century – and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal,” said Chairman Genachowski. “Last year I announced a comprehensive plan to accelerate the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1, including text-to-9-1-1, and the FCC has acted to advance this effort.”

Chairman Genachowski went on to state, “This is good progress, but our work is not done. Next week the FCC will consider further actions to advance text-to-9-1-1 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 9-1-1 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 9-1-1 system, where significant deficiencies were revealed by this summer’s Derecho.”

“The agreement does not mean that text-to-9-1-1 service will be available to all consumers by 2014, noted an official comment by NENA (the National Emergency Number Association) on the FCC’s announcement.  “That will hinge on the deployment of hardware, software, and training at the more than 6,000 9-1-1 centers across America.”  However, NENA added, 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.

“It is critically important that the public be reminded that the best way to reach 9-1-1 is still via voice communications,” said NENA President Barbara Jaeger.

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.

“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,” added Jaeger. “This historic agreement demonstrates the shared commitment of parties to serve the evolving needs of citizens in the digital age.”

Review the full text of the agreement here.

See the complete statement by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski here

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via FCC and NENA, 12/6/12)

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