Can I text 9-1-1?

Much like our earlier post ‘Can you eMail 9-1-1?’ – but different! The short answer is “no, you can’t,” except…. well you might be able to; but if you can text 9-1-1 you won’t need my blog post to tell you about it – you’ll know already. Read on….

eComm Logo

Text 9-1-1 Trial

(With due appreciation to the Vancouver Sun and eComm 9-1-1).

When James Henderson called 911 he was desperate to get help for his wife Nancy, who was choking. Unfortunately he is deaf and when he wasn’t able to communicate the details of the emergency on the call, it took more than 40 minutes for help to arrive.
The incident had a happy ending when the pill that had blocked Nancy’s throat dislodged and she was able to recover on her own. But it underscored the difficulties that people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment face when they are trying to reach 911.

eComm currently offers a TTY service but these machines are ‘large, bulky and old-fashioned’. With the ever increasing presence of mobile phones, why not allow text messages as well?

Why not text 911?

Pants dial 9-1-1

Your pants can dial 9-1-1

Well…

  • It’s easy to send messages by mistake.
  • It’s going to take a while for you to type your full address.
  • When you text 9-1-1 the dispatcher can’t hear if there’s a bunch of giggling children in the background, or the sounds of your house burning (yes these things matter!)

So what’s happening now?

A three month trial will allow people who can’t communicate by voice call to text 9-1-1 from their cell phones. The trial covers 4 regions, including Vancouver. The point of the trial is to test the system and decide if it can be used nationally. The trial will require participants to register, and about 40 people from the Vancouver region are expected to take part.

“It’s a huge safety issue for someone to be able to get hold of 911 services in a timely manner,” said Mandy Conlon, provincial accessibility coordinator for the Canadian Hearing Society’s 911 improvement project. “There are definitely people who have not been able to get a timely answer to their 911 calls specifically because of this issue.”

Can they find you if you text 9-1-1?

As we regularly teach, and eComm regularly experiences, locating a caller isn’t as easy as you might imagine. Telus provides the technology locally, and already the 911 system helps operators locate people who are calling from cellphones, relying on either GPS or the triangulation of cellphone towers.

“What this texting service does is it essentially bolts that location technology onto text messaging functionality so someone who is deaf, or who has a speech impairment and can’t talk to the 911 operator, can text the relevant information,” said Telus spokesman Shawn Hall.

“It’s important that it works this way because it combines the powerful aspects of a voice call, particularly that location functionality with texting, and if you are unable to speak, you will be able to text information — such as ‘there’s a fire,’ ‘my spouse has had a heart attack.’”

Jody Robertson, spokesperson for E-Comm, said when a 911 call comes in from someone who has registered as a participant in the test, the operator gets a special alert signalling that this is a caller who needs to text. The operator switches then to software that allows them to receive and send text messages from the caller.
To inquire about taking part in the trial, contact Mandy Conlon at the Canadian Hearing Society, at mandyconlon@rogers.com.

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at UBC Hospital as a pharmacist when not busy training safety
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