Northwest Central Dispatch System Begins 911 Texting Capability; Voice Still Preferred

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Beginning today, August 18, 2014, wireless phone subscribers of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, who are residents or visitors living, working or traveling in the Northwest Central Dispatch System service area may be able to use their mobile phones to send a text message to 911 for emergency help.

Northwest Central Dispatch System is the first 911 communications center in Illinois to accept text 911 messages. Officials say the availability of text messaging is especially important for residents with speech or hearing impairments. The service is also important in case where a victim is hiding from an offender and is not able speak out loud in an emergency. It could also be useful in an area where extremely loud background noise would make voice communication impossible.

Texts to 911 should include clear and complete location information with the first message, along with the nature of the emergency. Abbreviations and slang should not be used. Unlike voice calls, emergency personnel will not be able to determine location (geographic position), nor will they be able to speak with the person sending the text to quickly ascertain their location.

Officials say texting 911 should be an option used only when calling is not possible. A voice call is still the most efficient and preferred way to access emergency services, especially since geographic positioning is only available on cell phone voice calls.

Northwest Central Dispatch System serves police departments in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Schaumburg, Streamwood, Prospect Heights and Rolling Meadows. Northwest Central Dispatch System also serves fire departments in all of these communities, except for Prospect Heights, which is served by RED Center in Northbrook, Illinois

If a subscriber tries to text 911 outside the service area, wireless phone companies are required to send the subscriber a “bounce-back” message to alert them that the message didn’t go through to a responder.

If a text to 911 is not answered in a timely manner, customers are advised to make a voice call to 911.

In December 2012, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a proposal to “require all wireless carriers and providers of ‘interconnected’ text messaging applications to support the ability of consumers to send text messages to 9-1-1 in all areas throughout the nation where 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) are also prepared to receive the texts.” The proposal also contained a provision to require carriers “to send automated ‘bounce back’ error messages to consumers attempting to text 9-1-1 when the service is not available.” The proposed FCC rules were based, in part, on a voluntary commitment made by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile to provide “text to 9-1-1” services nationwide by May 15, 2014.

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