AT&T yesterday announced that it will conduct a text-to-911 trial in the state of Tennessee. The trial will leverage the state’s new Emergency Service IP Network (ESInet) that was built to support next-generation services in public-safety answering points (PSAPs).

As part of the trial, AT&T wireless subscribers will be able to send Short Message Service (SMS) text messages directly into the 911 system.

“We’ll actually start out very small, with one or two PSAPs, and we’ll expand across Tennessee as the trial goes on and as we make sure things are working correctly,” Mel Coker, vice president of AT&T public safety solutions, said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “The trial is currently scheduled to be a 90-day trial, at which point we’ll assess and determine what we would do after that point.”

Some of the key information that AT&T hopes to learn during the trial is the need for standards, public education and the intricacies of the call-handling process, Coker said.

“The trial’s going to allow us to test the technology and develop the best practices and methods that we already talked about, and allow us to integrate this type of service into different locations in the future,” she said. “This is something that AT&T is absolutely committed to.”

One reason AT&T picked Tennessee for its initial text-to-911 trial is the fact that the state has deployed a statewide IP-network backbone—known as NetTN—as a key component of a next-generation 911 plan.

“In today's mobile environment, it's vital that Tennessee's public-safety infrastructure keeps pace,” Lynn Questell, executive director of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board (TECB), said in a statement. “This trial with AT&T will build upon efforts to modernize and enhance our emergency communication network, leveraging new technologies to serve our citizens and work to ensure their safety.”

When possible, mobile users should call 911 in an emergency, rather than text 911. However, texting 911 is expected to be a valuable tool for those who cannot make an emergency voice call, especially those who are hearing-impaired.

“When you think about text to 911, from my perspective, the hearing-impaired [community] is absolutely the first priority,” Coker said. “I know the community has been very vocal for quite some time about needing this type of solution to aid them in the emergency process.”