Text-to-911 service gets a big step closer to reality

The move toward a national text-to-911 emergency system took another step forward recently, when the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) announced release of a standard to provide Short Message Service (SMS) subscribers the ability to send text messages to 911.

The developers of the standard, which include AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA and Verizon, expect to have a fully operational text-to-911 solution in place by May 15, 2014, the target date given to the Federal Communications Commission.

The standard — officially called J-STD-110, Joint ATIS/TIA Native SMS to 9-1-1 Requirements & Architecture Specification — is designed to address the needs of mobile users in areas where SMS to 9-1-1 is still unavailable, despite the rapidly growing number of emergency calls being made on mobile devices. Although there are active pilots in many locations, a nationwide system has been lacking.

“Text messaging is one of consumers’ preferred means of communication and increasingly they are expecting that they can access life-saving emergency services using SMS. Thus, market demand has helped drive the need for this critical standard,” said ATIS president and CEO Susan M. Miller. “J-STD-110 makes a new generation of emergency communications capabilities possible. It allows text to 911 to be broadly implemented across the United States to get emergency messages to public safety answering points at times when help is needed most.”

The bulk of what remains to be done involves improvements to the local public safety answering points (PSAPs) so they can be made ready to receive and route SMS signals. Getting all of the service providers on board and going in the same direction with these improvements is a huge step.

“The development of J-STD-110 is a consensus response from the telecommunications service provider and manufacturer community to address the critical need to enable delivery and reception of native SMS text to and from the PSAP,” said TIA president Grant Seiffert. “In the short-term, the standard will enable life-saving communications between those in situations where voice conversations are not possible and will augment the deaf and hard of hearing community’s ability to communicate with emergency services in a timely fashion.”

In the long-term, Seiffert said, the standard "will serve as a bridge” to next-generation 911 systems that will give people better access to emergency services, allow them to interact with PSAPs and provide a more reliable emergency system.

While the long-term next-generation 911 solution outlined in the specification is being worked on, an interim system is being put in place. In this stop-gap measure, if a person tries to send a text to a PSAP that isn’t yet set up to handle SMS messages, the provider will send a text message back to the sender advising him to call 911.

The specification is available to download for the next couple months at the ATIS Document Center  or TIA’s website.


About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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