Enhanced SMS Allows Vision, Hearing Impaired To Text 911

A public-safety group is launching mobile phone texting technology that allows impaired individuals to contact a 911 dispatcher without specialized communications devices or relay centers.
For the more than 30 million American citizens with speech and hearing impairments, contacting a 911 emergency call center is likely to become easier now that an Iowa county public-safety organization has successfully tested texting options.

The Black Hawk County, Iowa, 911 Service Board reported Tuesday that a group of companies and public-safety organizations has developed a mobile phone texting system that frees impaired individuals from using specialized communications devices or relay centers to contact a 911 dispatcher in the event of an emergency.

"The successful testing of text messaging to 911 from a wireless telephone is a tremendous emergency services advancement for individuals who have sensory disabilities," said Richard Ray, chairman of the National Emergency Number Association Accessibility Committee, in a statement.

Also participating in the development of the successful test were public-safety services provider Intrado, network provider Racom, and I Wireless, a partnership of T-Mobile and Iowa Network Services in Iowa and western Illinois. Black Hawk Consolidated Communications handles much of the emergency communications in Black Hawk County, along with the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.

To establish the texting-to-911 connection, the various partners enhanced the Short Message Service to establish a text-conversation link directly between the caller and 911 dispatchers. The developers noted that SMS has been gaining acceptance throughout the speech- and hearing-impaired community, even though SMS was not developed for public-safety use. The Iowa group is continuing to work to improve the speed and reliability of 911 SMS to make it more attractive for public-safety communications.

The Black Hawk County system is being installed and is expected to go live in early July. The various parties involved in the development of the texting system envision it being adopted across the United States by speech- and hearing-impaired citizens, as well as by other citizens who have trouble making a voice call in emergency situations.

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