An Iowa public-safety answering point (PSAP) last month became the first in the United States capable of receiving text messages directly into the 911 system.

During a press conference in Black Hawk County, Iowa, the Black Hawk Consolidated Public Safety Communications Center received a text message, at which point the call center went live with the text-messaging service, said John Snapp, senior technical officer for Intrado, the vendor leading the effort.

Other 911 centers have received emergency text messages, but those messages have been received through portals outside the 911 system. The solution implemented in Black Hawk County allows text messages to be transmitted and received within the 911 network. Snapp said the text messages are received and processed like any other emergency requests within the 911 framework.

However, right now the service only works for subscribers to select carriers. Snapp said Intrado is working with both the carrier and PSAP communities to make the service more accessible.

By the end of the year, Intrado hopes to enhance the existing SMS service by providing the caller's location information with the text — technology already used for 911 voice calls from cellular phones. In addition, Intrado wants to allow pictures to be included with both voice and text calls to PSAPs, Snapp said.

“We need to start receiving MMS [multimedia message service] messages in the same manner as SMS and make the media available to the PSAP,” he said.