Vermont launches public-education campaign for text-to-911 service
A statewide campaign to educate the public about text-to-911 service recently was launched in Vermont, where emergency texting is provided to AT&T and Verizon wireless users and could become available to customers of other nationwide carriers before the end of the year.
While various text-to-911 trials and full-fledged deployments have been conducted in several locations, most have been limited to a single wireless carrier or limited geographic availability. As a result, most 911 entities have not promoted text-to-911 services, because they are not available to most citizens.
Vermont was in a similar position until August, when AT&T announced a six-month trial of text-to-911, joining Verizon as a provider of the emergency texting service, said David Tucker, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board. With the two wireless giants — carriers that provide more than 90% of wireless calls to the Vermont 911 system — offering text-to-911, state officials were comfortable launching the public-education campaign, he said.
“Getting AT&T on board gave us the ability and the reason to really start talking to people about this,” Tucker said.
Although the AT&T text-to-911 deployment officially is considered a trial, the carrier is committed to providing the trial service through late February 2014 and is obligated — through a nationwide agreement made last year — to support text-to-911 services in states that request it in May 2014. Vermont officials are hopeful that AT&T will maintain the text-to-911 capability during the three months between the commitment periods, Tucker said.
In addition, Vermont is in discussions with officials from Sprint and T-Mobile — the other two nationwide wireless carriers—to enable text-to-911 functionality to their customers in the coming months, Tucker said.
“We’re working with both of them. I don’t have a commitment on when they’re going to put the service in place, but I’m anticipating it’s going to happen maybe by the end of this calendar year,” he said. “I can’t say that definitively, but I’m anticipating that we may get them both by the end of the calendar year.”
Key messages included in the Vermont radio and TV spots — available at the Vermont911 YouTube channel — about text-to-911 service include the fact that calling 911 is preferable, and that texting 911 should only be used when calling is not an option, such as for the hard-of-hearing community and for those who need to be quiet in potentially dangerous situations.
One TV commercial includes no sound, depicting a member of the hard-of-hearing community using text-to-911 service to get help after her car broke down, Tucker said.
“I wasn’t sure how that would work, but I can tell you that the deaf and hard-of-hearing community appears to be absolutely that we did that, because we did it to reach out directly to them,” Tucker said.
Keri Darling, director/trainer for Deaf Vermonters Advocacy Services, expressed support for the text-to-911 public-education initiative in the state.
“As a deaf Vermonter, I'm proud of our state’s leadership in implementing text-to-911 services, which is especially important for the Vermont deaf and hard of hearing communities,” Darling said in a prepared 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.”