D.C. Takes Another Step Towards Modernizing 9-1-1

Sometimes calling 9-1-1 may not be the best way to report an emergency. In certain situations, the ability to text your emergency message could mean the difference between life and death.

Today, Washington, D.C. took a major step toward modernizing its 9-1-1 system when Mayor Bowser launched Text to 9-1-1, a new service that allows residents to request emergency services through texting.

According to a press release,

Today, Mayor Bowser launched Text to 9-1-1 in Washington, DC, a new service that allows residents to request emergency services through texting. Text to 9-1-1 is intended to improve accessibility for residents who are unable to call 9-1-1, and the Administration is emphasizing that residents should continue to call 9-1-1 when possible. The Mayor was joined at the launch by the Director of the Office of Unified Communications (OUC) Karima Holmes and Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) Chief Gregory Dean.

“Text to 9-1-1 gives people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have a speech disability as well as those who could be put in more danger by calling 9-1-1 an immediate connection to emergency services,” said Mayor Bowser. “Text to 9-1-1 is the latest example of how we are using every resource possible to make Washington, DC safer and stronger for all residents.”

Text to 9-1-1 requires a smartphone that is capable of sending text messages and has Location Services enabled. Text messages must be brief, easily understood, and in plain English (no abbreviations, shortcuts, or slang).

Text to 9-1-1 is a component of Next Generation 911 (NG911), the initiative aimed at updating the 9-1-1 system across the United States. NG911 issues are of top concern for county governments seeking to improve and enhance their handling of 9-1-1 calls from cell phone users with technology that will increase response times, location accuracy, and allow text, photo, and video data to be shared by callers to First Responders on their way to the emergency.

While the technology to implement NG911 is available now, there are many issues that local governments must work through relating to technology standards, the process of transition, governance, and funding. During the 2017 Legislative Session, MACo supported Senate Bill 466, “Carl Henn’s Law,” a bill to streamline the transition to NG911 in Maryland. MACo worked with bill sponsor, Senator Kagan over the interim on ideas for the legislation and was pleased to have her support on several amendments to the bill.

As amended, the legislation expands the uses of a state funding mechanism for 9-1-1 upgrades and creates an advisory board that includes local 911 Center representation to help implement the next generation technologies throughout the State. SB 466, “Carl Henn’s Law,” passed the Senate but did not move in the House.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: “Carl Henn’s Law” to Advance 9-1-1 Heard in Senate

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Counties Left in the Dark When 9-1-1 Fails

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Next Steps on Next Generation 9-1-1