An Iowa 911 call center yesterday became the first public-safety answering point (PSAP) in the United States that is able to receive 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, marking the call center going live with the text-messaging service, said John Snapp, senior technical officer for Intrado, the vendor leading the effort.

Other 911 centers in the 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 capability has been tested for several weeks. Until yesterday, those attempting to send text messages to the Black Hawk 911 center received an automated message instructing them to make a voice call to 911. Now, the PSAP can receive the text message and process it like other emergency requests within the 911 framework, he said.

"We made the first successful call, so the system is up and live now," Snapp said during an interview with Urgent Communications. "We've changed the message now; they're not being told to make a voice call to 911. The calls are being received, and they're given instructions on how to input the right information to get it routed to the PSAP."

While the Black Hawk call center has the capability to receive emergency text messages, 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.

The Black Hawk solution included upgrade CPE equipment with special software, redundant high-speed data links to improve reliability and having commercial wireless service providers route 911 texts directly into Intrado's redundant national gateway, Snapp has said. The equipment and software can be leveraged in a next-generation 911 architecture.

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.

Related Stories