The City of Allentown is partnering with Telecommunications Systems Inc. (TSC) and Verizon Wireless to become one of less than (100) 9-1-1 Centers in the country to utilize technology to provide an interim solution for short message service (SMS) text messages to 911 for emergency help when a person is unable to make a 911 voice call.
“I’m very happy to be able to provide this service in the city,” said Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who sent a test text message to the 9-1-1 Center during a late morning news conference in City Council Chambers. “Technology is always improving. I’m pleased that we are just the fourth center in the Commonwealth to be able to provide this option.”
“The Text to 9-1-1 solution we have implemented is the beginning steps of Next Generation 9-1-1 services for the City of Allentown,” said Superintendent of Communication Mike Hilbert. “The staff of the Allentown 9-1-1 Center is proud and excited to provide our visitors and citizens the ability to Text to 9-1-1 when making a voice call is not an option.”
The service is currently available only to any Verizon Wireless customer within range of an Allentown cell tower. The Allentown 9-1-1 Center has also requested Text to 9-1-1 Service from the other major wireless carriers; T-Mobile, ATT and Sprint; and looks forward to allowing their customers to access the emergency services of the City of Allentown via Text in the near future.
Text to 911 is intended primarily for use in two emergency scenarios:
o For an individual who is speech or hearing impaired and…
o For a person who is unable to make a voice call, for example during a medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech, or in the instance of a home invasion, domestic violence, or abduction.
Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is NOT an option.
Users should call if they can and text if they can’t.
Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help.
o Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.
o It may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text to 911 situation because of the time involved:
• Someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and the 911 telecommunicator must read the text and then text back.
There are texting guidelines that should be followed.
Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Allentown Communications Center will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text.
Text messages sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.
SMS-911 should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, other attachments or other recipients appended to the message.
Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
o Customers must be in range of cell towers in the Allentown area. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Allentown Communications Center.
o In these cases, the customer will receive a ‘Bounce Back’ message advising them to make a voice call to 9-1-1.
Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. The solution is available for customers who use the native SMS provided by Verizon Wireless.
The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services.
o Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Allentown Communications Center through its non-emergency line at (610) 437-7751.
On January 30, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Policy Statement and 2nd FNPRM stating the goal that all wireless telephone companies and providers of interconnected text messaging services should enable consumers to send text messages to 911. The city and Verizon Wireless are able to provide this service effective immediately.
The four major U.S. wireless carriers; AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon; have voluntarily committed to make Text-to-9-1-1 service available by May 15, 2014 in all areas served by their respective networks where local PSAPs have the technical capabilities to receive texts.