Today, the Federal Communications Committee’s (FCC) Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) held a meeting focused on possible text-to-911 solutions. The EAAC’s mission is to recommend policies to the FCC that will help ensure individuals with disabilities have equal access to emergency services as part of the migration to next generation 911. This includes the deaf and hard of hearing who cannot communicate with 911 operators through traditional aural means. This meeting acted as a follow-up to an exhibition fair of text-to-911 mobile solutions the committee hosted earlier in the week. While the purpose of the committee is to focus on helping those with disabilities contact 911 operators, the implications of decisions made about text-to-911 will be far-reaching, particularly as younger generations increasingly choose text messaging over voice calls.
As more locations roll out NG911-capable systems, text-to-911 will soon become commonplace. At the present time, however, very few locations have this capability, and even those that do warn that it is not always advisable to use it. Text-to-911 should only be used in circumstances when the caller is incapable of voice communication, such as kidnapping situations, when waiting for messages to be sent and received could be the difference between life and death. At present, there are also no government-established standards for text-to-911, and the government should move swiftly to enact them. Enacting standards that can be put in place across the country will ensure a uniform application of text-to-911 services, so that no matter where a user is, they will have the same ability to reach help when it is most needed. The lack of standards should not discourage vendors from continuing to develop text-to-911 solutions; however, it should be kept in mind that the specific form of the solution may require tweaking once standards are in place.
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