Verizon Wireless announced a major
text-to-911 push on Thursday, making it the only top-tier operator in the country
to offer the emergency service.
Wireless operators have been reticent to
deploy text-to-911 because of regulatory uncertainty, lack of preparedness at
public service answering points and concerns about liability.
Voice calls remain the preferred way to
contact emergency responders, but the ability to send text messages to 911 call
centers can be critical for callers who can’t make voice calls because they are
deaf, or would be placed in danger by speaking.
During the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre,
students sent SMS messages to 911 about the shooting, only to have them go
Verizon plans to make the service, which
will run on its CDMA network, available to “select” public safety
answer points early next year.
“Our company is continuing its
long-standing commitment to address the needs of public safety and our
customers by offering another way to get help in an emergency by using wireless
technology,” Marjorie Hsu, Verizon Wireless vice president of technology,
said in a statement.
A spokeswoman declined to specify which
markets would get the capability first, but said Verizon plans to work with
public safety officials to let local communities know about the service.
Text-to-911 requires upgrades on both
the network side and at public safety answering points. Public safety answering
points that receive 911 calls must be able to handle SMS messages, and
operators must be able to route SMS messages to 911 services vendors, which in
turn route them to responders.
Verizon has used equipment from Intrado
for its first two trials. TeleCommunications Systems is providing the gateway
for the service announced yesterday.
Verizon has conducted two text-to-911
trials, one in Durham, N.C., and a state-wide deployment in Vermont. The
operator hasn’t talked about results yet, but a public safety official from
Durham told Wireless Week in a previous interview that uptake has been limited.
Between August and March, the city only
received a single SMS call to 911, and it was a situation that could have been
handled by a voice call, said James Soukup, emergency communications director
for the city and county of Durham, N.C.
Before Verizon started a trial of the
service in Vermont last month, the only statewide text-to-911 service was
offered in Iowa by i wireless. The regional operator helped launched the first
SMS-enabled 911 call center in Black Hawk County, Iowa, in 2009 and has since
expanded the service statewide. It is still the only operator in the state to