With 911 texting, possibilities and problems

Editor’s Note:

The ability to text or send pictures and videos to 911 emergency dispatchers may be coming soon to an emergency dispatch center in Salt Lake City. Art Hsieh says that, though texting in EMS offers a number of benefits, there are some logistical hurdles to overcome.

Technology marches on, and try as we might, keeping up in emergency services is a challenge.

Texting and wireless communication devices are rapidly becoming the norm, rather than the exception, to distance communications.

As the article points out, our 911 system is predicated on the assumption that emergency callers will use landline telephones to initiate their calls. Today's reality does not align with that assumption; many use their mobile phones to call in an emergency. Our country's wireless providers have been very slow in embracing that trend; even today, years after the mandate to adapt the cellular system, many parts of the country still cannot route wireless 911 calls to the closest PSAP. We still have a long way to go.

Texting 911 calls? Yup, that's coming too. There are probably several major logistical hurtles to overcome.The lag time between sending a text and receiving one is one of them, and the ability to respond back and elicit additional information is another. And what about the ability to pinpoint the location of the incident and being able to call back to the reporting party? These built-in components of landline-based E911 have not yet been duplicated in wireless systems.

Meanwhile, technology marches on. I hope the smart folks that are making these devices will spend some attention on protecting the safety of their end users as well.

About the author

Art Hsieh, MA, NRP teaches in Northern California at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. An EMS provider since 1982, Art has served as a line medic, supervisor and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook writer, author of "EMT Exam for Dummies," has presented at conferences nationwide and continues to provide direct patient care regularly. Art is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com and connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

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