After years of discussion, it really is coming! Text to 9-1-1 is just around the corner, and, as with any change of this nature, there’s a lot to consider.
A natural tendency is to dive deep into the technical aspects of how this new form of communication will come into the PSAP. Someone, of course, has to do that – but please don’t think that’s all you have to consider. Text to 9-1-1 will require new operational and record-keeping procedures as well. Also, bear in mind that this is just the first step toward richer PSAP communications with the public. Emergency communications will in the future include pictures, videos, chat, social media, and even communications from machines (environmental sensors, automatic crash notification, automatic alarm protocols). Ultimately, this information will be shared with first and second responders to help them improve their field responses.
If you view Text to 9-1-1 as a distraction – something you have to incorporate and get ready for but would rather not – then that’s exactly what it will be: another isolated, disconnected source of information that adds to your already-high workload burden. However, if you view Text to 9-1-1 as a milestone on the journey of NG9-1-1, and use it to shape your vision, then you’re well on the road to becoming a better-informed PSAP and to providing better service to the public. You’ll also be ready when pictures and videos start arriving at emergency communication centers. Black Hawk County 9-1-1 is a shining example of what can happen when a PSAP embraces change, rather than fighting it.
Some in the industry fear that enabling text to 9-1-1 will suddenly result in a flood of text messages. That fear was palatable in our recent session at NENA – Text to 9-1-1 on the Fast Track: What You Need to Know, presented by NENA's Roger Hixson, Michelle Bland from the California Highway Patrol, and myself. However, I don’t think that’s the case. My prediction is that we’ll see a gradual increase in the use of this form of communication. (I predict that text to 9-1-1 won’t result in a corresponding drop in 9-1-1 calls either.) This gradual increase will give PSAPs a chance to review, learn, and improve along the way – but only if they carefully track and record how texts are handled, particularly for incidents like major accidents. It’s these operational aspects that should rise above the technical discussions in your PSAP.
The public will expect the same high attention to text communications that you give them today for voice calls. Let’s work to exceed their expectations and keep in mind that Text to 9-1-1 is an opportunity to accelerate on the journey to an information-rich future PSAP.