New Jersey residents can now text to 911

Through partnerships with public safety providers and wireless carriers, New Jersey has rolled out text-to-911 service in all 21 counties.

Thanks to collaboration among a number of public safety organizations, New Jersey is now able to provide its residents with the ability to text 911.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services (OETS), a unit of the Office of Information Technology, worked with cellular providers, local and county emergency dispatch units and public safety agencies, the state police, Rutgers University and federal officials to implement its text-to-911 system in all 21 counties, according to the program’s announcement.

Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint have provided text control centers with the necessary software and interfaces to receive, manage and forward the SMS-based text 911 messages to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Points. To receive the messages, the PSAPs needed properly configured computers, a secure internet connection and a short training session for dispatchers.   

Craig Reiner, director of OETS, told GCN the text-to-911 implemented by the state is much like others throughout the country, in that it is separate from the traditional 911 networks used for processing landline and wireless calls.

The state’s PSAPs receive text messages by way of a couple dedicated computers logged into text control centers through a secure browser-based portal.

According to Reiner, the PSAPs have software that gives them some information on the location of the “texter.” However, the quality of the location information will depend on the quality or the model of the device placing the text message. That’s why people who text to 911 are instructed to include their location in the message.

New Jersey has nearly 200 PSAPs throughout the state, but 17 regional PSAPs have been designated to receive these text messages. Those operators will receive messages and stay in conversation with the texter until help arrives. If the message comes from an outside jurisdiction, the dispatcher will relay the information to the appropriate PSAP. In counties without a PSAP handling text-to-911, the state police will process the dispatch. Rutgers University, in addition to serving the more than 50,000 students, faculty and staff in Rutgers’ New Brunswick community, will provide the service for Middlesex County.

According to an article in NJ.com, Camden County was the first in the state to deploy its text-to-911 system in March, and by late July, all 21 counties were covered.

And while the feature does advance the state’s emergency system, it still does not enable Next Generation 911 capabilities, such as accepting photos and videos. “In New Jersey we’ve recognized that this is an interim solution until we roll out our Next Generation 911 platform,” Reiner said.

Calling 911 is still the preferred method for asking for emergency assistance, but texting is especially helpful in situations when it is unsafe to talk and for those with hearing impairments or speech disorders.

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