According to the FCC:
9-1-1 service is a vital part of our nation's emergency response and disaster preparedness system. In October 1999, the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999 (9-1-1 Act) took effect with the purpose of improving public safety by encouraging and facilitating the prompt deployment of a nationwide, seamless communications infrastructure for emergency services. One provision of the 9-1-1 Act directs the FCC to make 9-1-1 the universal emergency number for all telephone services.
However, if you are a person with a hearing loss, you may not be able to hear on the phone you’re using to call 9-1-1. Many people who rely on captioned telephone services do not realize that the captions will not automatically appear after dialing 9-1-1. Others never thought about the fact that even though they use text messaging all the time, they will not be able to reach 9-1-1 with a text message. And using video is entirely out of the question. The FCC is seeking to addresses these issues with the Next Generation 911 (NG911) roll out, which will enable the public to obtain emergency assistance by means of advanced communications technologies beyond traditional voice-centric devices. When that comes to pass, reaching 9-1-1 will be easier for all, whether we use voice phones, text, email, or video.
FCC to Vote on Report and Order Addressing Text-to-911 at August 8 Open Meeting
July 30, 2014
On August 8, the FCC will take a vote on whether to adopt new rules requiring text-to-911. Text-to-911 provides a way to contact 911 directly by sending a text message. On July 18, 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler commented on this proceeding in a blog, which states, in part:
“The fact is our 911 system has struggled to keep pace with new technology. Witness the long-standing inability to text to 911. We’ve made significant progress on this issue this year. Consistent with a Policy Statement unanimously adopted by the Commission in January 2014 the four major wireless carriers, which serve 95 percent of U.S. customers now support text-to-911. More than 100 emergency call centers in 17 states now support text-to-911, and others have initiated plans to come online. I commend the four nationwide wireless carriers for following through on their commitment, and while I’m pleased to see that PSAPs are beginning to respond there remains more to be done.
Other than the four major wireless carriers, no other providers of text services have offered voluntary commitments to implement text-to-911. On the PSAP side, despite recent progress, the majority still do not support text-to-911.
When you consider how Americans increasingly rely on text as a primary means of communication, and the approximately 48 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing and 7.5 million Americans with speech disabilities, all of whom are even more reliant on text, these shortcomings are unacceptable.
I’ve often spoken about the regulatory see-saw: if industry acts in the public interest, FCC involvement will be low, but if the public interest is not being served, the Commission will not hesitate to act. In the case of text-to-911, it is time for the Commission to act. And today, I am circulating an item for consideration at our August open meeting that will take definitive action to implement the Policy Statement we unanimously adopted in January.”
Thanks are due to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for his strong support of disability access, and to the FCC staff particularly in the Disability Rights Office, Consumer and Government Affairs bureau, for all their hard work on this important item.
Emergency Access: Rolling Out Text to 911 in 2014
May 21, 2014
Starting on Thursday, people in select locations across the country can text 9-1-1 with emergencies if they are unable to call them in.
The Federal Communications Commission is rolling out the service to make it easier to contact 9-1-1 for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, have a speech disability or are in a situation in which making a call could be dangerous. The FCC's website states that making a phone call is still the best option when possible, because it allows the person calling in to relay information more quickly. First responders can also triangulate the caller's location with a phone call, something that can't be done via text.
To that point, the FCC asks that anyone texting 9-1-1 provide information about the situation and his or her exact location. The providers supporting the service include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless.
The initial rollout [PDF] includes areas of Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. Though only people living in certain parts of those states can text 9-1-1 starting on Thursday, the FCC says anyone with a cellphone and enough service will be able to do so by the end of 2014.
Anyone who texts 9-1-1 in an area where emergency call centers do not yet support texts will receive a bounce-back message, informing them the text has not been sent and they should try to call instead.
Call centers are still updating their systems to be compatible with texts. According to the FCC's site, anyone who wants to know whether their area has adopted the new technology can call their cellphone providers.
Verizon to Offer Text to 911 Services
May 22, 2012
HLAA learned at an accessibility issues conference call hosted by Verizon that they will soon be offering Verizon customers access to 911 via text messaging. For people with significant hearing loss, gaining access to 911 via text messaging is a huge leap forward. To date, people with hearing loss were relegated to using TTYs or using a voice call to 911 without knowing whether they would be able to hear what the dispatcher said. Advocates for people with hearing loss have been on the forefront of efforts to get text messaging and real time text messaging accepted as another way to reach 911 in an emergency. In trials in North Carolina and in Vermont, Verizon has received positive feedback for this new service. It will be available to any Verizon customer who has a text-capable phone and a service plan that includes text messaging, not just to people with hearing loss, and there are no plans to register callers. Verizon plans to work with public safety officials to roll out the service in early 2013.
For more information, see the Verizon news release [PDF].
FCC Sponsors Exhibition Fair of “Text-to-911” Technologies
March 13, 2012
On March 28 and 29, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission’s (Commission) Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) will sponsor an Exhibition Fair of “text-to-9-1-1” mobile solutions in its Technology Experience Center. The EAAC is an advisory committee required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). Its purpose is to determine the most effective and efficient technologies and methods by which to enable access to Next Generation 911 (NG911) emergency services by individuals with disabilities. [Read more]
Next Generation 9-1-1
August 19, 2011
FCC Chairman Genachowski Announces Five-Step Action Plan to Improve the Deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1
Washington, D.C. At the 2011 Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Philadelphia, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today announced his five-step action plan to chart the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) services. Working with the public safety community, carriers, manufacturers and other service providers, Chairman Genachowski's goal is to ensure that effective emergency response is a critical element of the broadband environment.
Under the Chairman's five-step action plan, the FCC will:
- develop automatic location accuracy mechanisms for NG-911,
- facilitate the completion and implementation of NG911 technical standards for the hardware and software that carriers and public safety answering points (PSAPs) use to communicate NG911 information,
- work with state 911 authorities, other Federal agencies, and other governing entities to provide technical expertise and develop a coordinated approach to NG911 governance,
- develop an NG911 Funding Model focused on the cost-effectiveness of the NG911 network infrastructure linking PSAPs and carriers and
- enable consumers to send text, photos, and videos to PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points).
Next month, the FCC is expected to launch a rulemaking to consider how to accelerate NG911 adoption to help answer practical, technical questions about how to enable text, photo, and video transmission to 911, including how to ensure adequate broadband infrastructure to deliver the bandwidth PSAPs will need to provide NG911. As part of the proceeding, the FCC will examine interim solutions for ensuring that carriers and service providers support transmission of text-to-911.
Chairman Genachowski said, "It's hard to imagine that airlines can send text messages if your flight is delayed, but you can't send a text message to 9-1-1 in an emergency. The unfortunate truth is that the capability of our emergency response communications has not kept pace with commercial innovation has not kept pace with what ordinary people now do every day with communications devices. The shift to NG911 can't be about if, but about when and how."
NG911 supports seamless, end-to-end IP-based communication of emergency-related voice, text, data, photos, and video between the public and public safety answering points. NG911 systems will continue to support the legacy 911 system on a transitional basis for as long as is necessary.
The announcement builds on Chairman Genachowski's strong public safety agenda, including launching of Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN), strengthening the FCC's existing enhanced E-911 location accuracy rules, laying the groundwork for a nationwide, interoperable public safety network and granting waivers to build out the public safety network.
HLAA invited to ATIS Incubator on Wireless Emergency Notification
July 11, 2011
When an emergency happens and you are on the move, how will you get the help you need? Do you have a mobile phone? If so, how will you use it to reach 9-1-1? Voice? VCO? Mobile Captions? TTY?
Reaching 9-1-1 is not always easy for people with hearing loss, particularly when we use mobile phones. Many people have text-only plans because they use text more than voice. If you have a text-only plan, you need to be sure you know how to reach 9-1-1. You should be able to contact 9-1-1 using voice even on text only plan – but you should check with your mobile phone carrier to be sure. And unless you live in one of the few places in the US that do respond to SMS the 9-1-1 centers, called public safety answering points (PSAPs), will not have the ability to receive and respond to text messages from your mobile phone. They do respond to voice calls and can still respond to TTY calls, but how many of us schlep a portable TTY around?
Even if you have a voice plan, will you be able to hear on the phone? It would be great if we could call 9-1-1 and get text in response and that may happen someday. Until that time, do call 9-1-1, and tell the dispatcher you cannot hear, but you will give them the essential information: the address and the city of the emergency, your phone number in case you get cut off, and the type of emergency. That information will help them find you and dispatch the right emergency responder, as long as you can voice for yourself. If you cannot voice for yourself, think about schlepping that portable TTY after all.
When Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) becomes a reality, you will have several ways to reach 9-1-1 directly: voice, text, video, images or data using your mobile phone. But it will take some time to build out the infrastructure to support that. Right now, the only two ways to reach 9-1-1 directly is via TTY or voice, despite the fact that most people are no longer using TTY’s, and many people use text, email, IM, SMS, and video regularly on their mobile phones.
So, what do we do until NG 9-1-1? That’s the question the ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions) Incubator group on Interim Non-Voice Emergency Services (INES) is working on. ATIS is a membership organization of leading service providers, manufacturers, wireless companies, carriers, software designers, Internet Service Providers, consultants, and other companies who seek work together to solve critical telecommunications issues. July 7, they invited HLAA and other organizations representing people with hearing loss to the table to address the issue of access to 9-1-1 for non-voice users until NG 9-1-1 is available. We are pleased to see ATIS reaching out to consumer representatives for input. We look forward to seeing a workable solution available soon for people with hearing loss using mobile phones in an emergency.
Iowa 9-1-1 Call Center First in Nation to Successfully Trial 9-1-1 Text Messaging
August 23, 2009
Black Hawk County First 9-1-1 Call Center to Participate in Landmark Effort Enabling Speech and Hearing Impaired Citizens to Communicate Directly With 9-1-1 for Help; Service to go live this July
Waterloo, IOWA — The Black Hawk County Iowa 9-1-1 Service Board today announced that the Black Hawk Consolidated Public Safety Communications Center has become the first 9-1-1 Call Center in the country to successfully receive text messages sent directly to 9-1-1. This groundbreaking effort allows those with speech and hearing impairments to use text messaging to communicate directly with a 9-1-1 operator in an emergency. A broad team of communications companies including i wireless, Intrado Inc., Positron Public Safety and RACOM Corporation were involved in this effort.
The Hearing Loss Association of America joins other consumer organizations in filing FCC comments on E911