Sprint Wireless yesterday embarked on 911 text messaging, with the nationwide carrier starting a four-month trial of the technology in Vermont, which is the first state to support two text-to-911 trials.

"We learned a lot from the original text-to-911 trial in Vermont, including that this new technology can save lives," David Tucker, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board, said in a statement. "The fact that a large number of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing already use Sprint as their preferred carrier means we will be better able to provide access for that population to the Vermont 911 system as a result of this trial with Sprint.

"The success of our first trial caused us to reach out to other carriers and we are very pleased that Sprint has stepped forward to participate. Ultimately, it will be important to get all of the wireless carriers that provide service in Vermont to do the same."

During the trial, all text messages from Sprint customers to 911 will be rerouted through the Williston public-safety answering point (PSAP), which is using a solution provided by 911 vendor Intrado. Because Vermont already was conducting one trial with Verizon Wireless, it was not difficult to add support for a second carrier, according to John Snapp, chief technical officer for Intrado.

"Adding the second carrier onto Vermont was very easy," Snapp said during an interview with Urgent Communications. "There wasn't anything Vermont had to do, except accept the test calls."

But the task was not as simple for Sprint, which is a "very complex carrier" that supports a number of MVNO partners on its network, Snapp said.

"Their network — with the number of different carrier partners the work with, the type of phones they have and the networks they have — was much more complex that the other deployments we've done," he said. "I was impressed with how they did this in an extremely professional manner, bringing all the right resources — dedicated from the high levels, all the way down — and knocking this out in a very short order."

In the summer of 2013, Sprint will turn off its iDEN network, so that technology will not be included in this trial, Snapp said.

Snapp reiterated that voice calls to 911 are a better method of making emergency calls. However, in situations where a voice call is not an option — for instance, when a caller needs to remain quiet for his own safety, or when the caller is unable to hear or speak — texting to 911 will be an option in Vermont during the trial period.

"As a deaf Vermonter, I'm so proud of our state's leadership in testing text-to-911 services, which is especially important for the Vermont deaf and hard-of-hearing communities," Keri Darling, director/trainer for Deaf Vermonters Advocacy Services, said in a statement. "Texting has been an integral part of my daily life and for so many others who cannot use a regular voice phone. This is an important and big step towards providing access to emergency services for all Vermonters."

Mike Ellis, national director-Sprint Relay Services, echoed this sentiment.

"Sprint is always looking for ways to bring new products and services to its customers that will help improve their everyday lives and is pleased to participate in this trial program with the state of Vermont," Ellis said in a statement. "The possibility of sending a text message to 911 can offer an alternative to the deaf and hard-of-hearing during emergencies, and Sprint looks forward to working with Vermont in testing and evaluating the service."