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Text-to-911 program to launch next year

Molly Wood May 8, 2012

If you’re in an emergency, you call 911. But what if you’re in a situation where making a call would put you in danger? What if you’re deaf and can’t call?

Starting next year, Verizon customers will be able to text to 911 instead of calling. Walt Magnussen directs the Internet 2 Technology Evaluation Center at Texas A&M University. He says 911 centers weren’t built for text calls.

Walt Magnussen: In order for you to be able to make the call, which is really the easy part of it, the 911 call centers have to be able to receive the calls, and that’s really where the issues come in. Most of the call centers that are out there today are really geared for voice.

Verizon’s been testing a text-to-911 system in Durham, North Carolina since last August. Since then, the grand total of legit emergency text messages received in Durham is… one.

Jim Soukup says a big issue they’re dealing with is making sure the person in need knows the message went through.

Jim Soukup: It’s also one of the concerns we have on our end, when we would text back to somebody, how do we know they’ve read it or received it yet. They say they’re real close, and that should be an enhancement coming in the next few months to where a read receipt — that would be something that we would see at our communication consoles.

Soukup says Durham’s had inquiries about the program from carriers other than Verizon but only Verizon seems intent on building it out.

Ed Price of the interactive media technology center at Georgia Tech says Verizon might be rushing it.

Ed Price: From my own judgment, I think they’re doing a solution that is quick to market that doesn’t solve all of the fundamental problems

Moe: what kind of problems?

Price: So, when you call 911 via phone line or even from your mobile phone, the 911 center knows where you’re at. When you send a text message, the system does not know where you’re at. So, you have to be able to text the 911 center your exact location, which if you’re injured or in distress you may not always know. No one has come up with a complete solution to that yet.

Moe: Is what Verizon is proposing to do — is that then dangerous? If they’re sending out texts, not aware their location isn’t being tracked

Price: I mean, it’s dangerous in a way that you run the risk of someone saying I’m having a heart attack, send help, and then they can’t send their location, However, if you’re deaf or hearing impaired and you can’t make a phone call, this is a better solution than nothing, or if you’re kidnapped, and you have access to your phone, you can’t talk. So, maybe a partial solution.

Folks at the Boston Globe are getting rid of the words yesterday, today and tomorrow in stories. Why dump those words? Internet. News stories get published right away online. By the time they’re in print, it’s the next day. Today becomes yesterday. Tomorrow becomes today. And the Globe wants to avoid an error slipping through.

From now on, the Globe will just use the names of days.

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