Texting to 9-1-1 to rollout nationwide

SMS still has limitations as a method of contacting 9-1-1

Texting for help to the nation's 9-1-1 call centers should be possible nationwide by May 15, 2014, following commitments from the nation's four largest wireless carriers, the Federal Communications Commission announced Dec. 6.

AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have agreed to accelerate deployments of technology that permits public safety answering points--as 9-1-1 centers are officially known--to receive short message service messages from cell phones, "with major deployments expected in 2013," the FCC says.

Collectively, they should ensure that about 90 percent of the population will be able to utilize by mid-2014 SMS to reach 9-1-1 services. As the carriers rollout the service, they will also implement an automatic bounce-back notification that the request for help didn't go through in areas where it is not yet activated, the FCC also says.

Concern that geographic disparities in PSAP ability to accept text messages would sow confusion and so possibly hinder 9-1-1 calls for help has been a sticking point in the technology's rollout.

First responders also have noted that SMS has considerable limitations, such as not containing any information about the sender's location nor identifying which cell tower received the SMS from the end user device. Users might also be uncertain whether their text was received and read by a PSAP.

For more:
- read the FCC announcement

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