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For US Customers, Text Access To 911 Slowly Rolls Out

timothy posted about 5 months ago | from the omg-send-3+-ambos-&-type-0-blood-pls-lol dept.

Communications 58

SmartAboutThings (1951032) writes "After it was long rumored and discussed about, the ability to text 911 in case of emergency is slowly rolling out in the United States to subscribers of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. For the time being, the service is available in areas of Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Virginia. According to the FCC, the service will gradually roll out to more areas and by the end of this year, virtually anyone with a cellphone and enough service will be able to make use of it. Which means that all carriers will support it." TechCrunch has a deeper article that explains why "you probably can't use it yet," and links to the FCC's own explanation of the service.

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Specific use cases (4, Interesting)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47016675)

Maybe I've seen too many TV shows but if you have a pre-recorded text for 911, something like seven key strokes can send it silently whereas the standard voice call risks the attacker hearing you.

I wasn't impressed with the article. At a higher level there has to be some coding you can send that says "can't speak, puts my life in danger". I don'tr know what that would be, but it rises above the article's cheap promotion of voice calls.

Re:Specific use cases (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 5 months ago | (#47016925)

Thank you, Tao. I was wondering what the point of texting 911 was. You've provided more than enough reason for the service to exist....

Re:Specific use cases (1)

Bigbutt (65939) | about 5 months ago | (#47017013)

The woman hiding in a closet or under a bed hiding from an intruder is a good example. The one I recall, she texted her friend who called 911 but they didn't make it in time unfortunately.

[John]

Re:Specific use cases (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017133)

The woman hiding in a closet or under a bed hiding from an intruder is a good example. The one I recall, she texted her friend who called 911 but they didn't make it in time unfortunately.

[John]

When seconds count, the police are minutes away.

Re:Specific use cases (0, Offtopic)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 5 months ago | (#47017493)

When seconds count, the police are minutes away.

Yes? And? Do you have a point, or do you just like parotting soundbites?

Re:Specific use cases (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017543)

That's not a soundbyte; it's the truth. His point is that the police don't actually protect anyone.

Re:Specific use cases (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47018157)

Yes they do?

Re:Specific use cases (1)

davester666 (731373) | about 5 months ago | (#47018865)

Sometimes.

But most of the time, they arrive after the situation is no longer dangerous [intruder has left, robbery is over, fight is over], where they are simply there to figure out how many charges they can lay against anyone in the area [so, he hit you with this pipe, oh, is that weed in your pocket?]

Re:Specific use cases (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 5 months ago | (#47026615)

Because they can't be there every minute of every day? What do you want, a policeman stationed in every cupboard?

Bad things happen, and you can't stop them all. Learn to live with it.

Re:point of texting 911 (2)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47017035)

Hallo Sir Avenger.

I'll go even further with a new avenue. Let's say that there is no attacker, that it's a "contained" emergency like a self inflicted wound or an auto hit or whatever. *Both* text *and* voice could save lives. If you have stuff like

"Geroald MacKenzei with the ei and watch the unusual spellings 1433 Maple Avenue #7F Woodside, NY next to 5th and 6th Ave hits M and R trains just past the cross junction of Broadway and Roosevelt. Remember you need to have someone get you in the building." ...all as a pre-recorded 911 text you just smash it out during your call and the operator should have the tech to power-blast it to all 17 agents. So you don't need to waste time with the Op on stupid junk repeating it because Texts Can't Be Forgotten. (done right)

Our traditional notions of 911 are somewhere stuck half in 1977 and half with modern tech that 1882 TV cop shows is possible but somehow the carriers are treating it like a big deal to get a text message and send a squad car.

Re:point of texting 911 (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 5 months ago | (#47017639)

1882 TV cop shows

Ah, that old classic, Ye Olde Bylle.

Re:Specific use cases (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47018971)

In Finland sending an SMS to 112 (the European equivalent of 911) has been possible for a decade already. The purpose is, however, not silent alarms in an armed attacker scenario but to enable hearing-impaired people to get help.

My personal interest in that is that I have epilepsy and before I got the seizures under control (which happened before smart phones), I would very much have wanted to have such an app as there now are which alert a pre-programmed number when the motion sensor suspects that the person carrying the phone has a seizure. I would like to see that taken a step further, namely so that the app directly alerts 112 and provides them with the patient's details (i.e. GPS coordinates, what type of epilepsy, what medication they're taking, previous seizure history, treating doctor and so on since that's what the emergency responders always asked me when sb had called them but usually I was too confused to speak).

Re:Specific use cases (3, Informative)

Barbarian (9467) | about 5 months ago | (#47016963)

Maybe I've seen too many TV shows but if you have a pre-recorded text for 911, something like seven key strokes can send it silently whereas the standard voice call risks the attacker hearing you.

I wasn't impressed with the article. At a higher level there has to be some coding you can send that says "can't speak, puts my life in danger". I don'tr know what that would be, but it rises above the article's cheap promotion of voice calls.

Not only that, most phones emit a very load beep when making an emergency call.

Re:Specific use cases (5, Interesting)

Dan East (318230) | about 5 months ago | (#47016967)

For me this is a very good thing due to the technical aspects, not whether or not you can speak. A text message is just one single packet of data (140 bytes, which can encode 160 7 bit characters). At the lowest voice bitrate, a single second of audio is like sending over 50 text messages - PER SECOND. It takes a much better (as in consistent) connection to initiate and maintain a voice call compared to sending a text message. It also requires a lot more power. As someone who does a lot of hiking and dual sport motorcycle riding in the Appalachian mountains, I know first hand that often the only usable mode of cellular communication is SMS (and don't even dream about data with a bad connection - that's worse than voice even). Of course I also carry my amateur radio as a last ditch fallback if there was an emergency.

Another big advantage of SMS is your phone will keep retrying to send the message. With voice 911 you have to manually try over and over again until you can get a connection.

If you look at the death of CNet editor James Kim, and the miraculous survival of his wife and two very young children, you'll find they were saved because just a few packets of cellular data made it from their phone to a cell tower, and a diligent cell tech found that in a log file (which narrowed down the search and his wife and children were found as they were on foot trying to hike out). It's my opinion that they are alive today due to a rare and unpredictable phenomenon known as Tropospheric Ducting, which can temporarily reflect radio waves back down to earth (thus greater than line of sight) when there are layers of atmosphere at different temperatures in the exact right configuration (kind of like how you can see light shimmer over a road surface on a hot day - that is because of the temperature gradient of the air directly above the road compared to the air above it - same thing can happen with radio waves at a larger scale).

Anyway, there are many times that SMS messages can get through when a voice connection cannot. I will stop on my motorcycle and send a text, then maybe 30 minutes later it will finally go through as I temporarily get service on a mountain ridge, or my cell phone is simply rotated to a more optimum angle relative to the cell tower.

Re:technical aspects (2)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47017109)

Nice angle Dan. I needed you to start the angle because I don't have the skills for that post but I can ride with it.

Working with that use case, my older iPhone croaks right about at the 6% mark (when it's not glitching.) So for ex if you are right at 7% battery because you spent all day doing stuff, and didn't recharge, you might be able to smash out one or two texts but don't have time for the full call. Similar thing, folks like me have "value plans" for phones and with 60 cents left on the plan there's no way I'd get a call out but I might be able to manage two texts.

Re: technical aspects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017363)

Does 911 actually use your plan minutes? Everywhere I have been emergency services we free and always available from any phone. At least as far as I know.

Re:technical aspects (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 5 months ago | (#47017447)

Calling 911 doesn't cost you a damn thing.

Re:technical aspects (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 5 months ago | (#47018313)

Yes it does... but it's usually bundled in with your phone service (often required by law, depending on ones jurisdiction).

Re:technical aspects (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47018823)

You can call 911 without phone service (e.g. remove the SIM call from a GSM phone and 911 will still work). This is, of course, effectively subsidized by those paying for phone service, but there's no actual billing to the user. There's places that take donations of old cell phones to give them to people so they can call 911.

Re:technical aspects (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 5 months ago | (#47018901)

Yes, you can... but 911 service is also generally bundled with whatever your phone package costs. The "free' 911 calls that people make without paying for any service are relatively few, and effectively subsidized by the people who are paying for phone service.

Re:Specific use cases (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 5 months ago | (#47022001)

Really? I thought SMS tried once and then stopped forever. Which is why you don't always get an SMS if your phone is off. (I disable it on my phone now, but back when I had it on my account I would occasionally have people ask why I didn't get a text)

Re:Specific use cases (2)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 5 months ago | (#47016979)

Maybe there should be an app on the phone that dials 911 but puts the phone on mute so that no sounds are emitted from the phone, perhaps with the screen off as well. Perhaps it should play a pre-recorded message to the operator so they know what's going on, and the operator can then hear any noise that's happening in the vicinity. You could even activate it with a panic button that you have on your keychain or in another covenient spot so you don't have to get to your phone in order to activate it.

Re: an app (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47017137)

You're close and this would be really easy to make. You just need a bit of a clever UI that stops most prank calls but is "unforgettable" in real emergencies. The actual tech of this is a snap.

Re: an app (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 5 months ago | (#47017501)

The clever UI to prevent prank calls is the fine you get when you make prank calls to 911.

Another use case (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017747)

Another use case is for deaf people. Currently 911 dispatch centers are required to provide a TDD number, but fewer and fewer deaf homes are bothering with TDD service so they must first reach an operator at a non-emergency relay service before they can contact the 911 center.

In time, the FCC should be able to relax the TDD service requirement and 911 centers can spend those funds on text messaging capabilities instead.

Re: Specific use cases (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 5 months ago | (#47018995)

I'm involved with wilderness hiking that can include need for mountain rescue. Here in northern Arizona, cell coverage for SMS is surprisingly good even in a lot of places where voice does not get through. I have witnessed several incidents with victims who could have gotten help much sooner with the ability to text 911

Better in thought than in practice (3, Funny)

mbadolato (105588) | about 5 months ago | (#47016699)

This is great idea, right up until they start receiving a zillion drunk texts or things like "EMERGENCY!!! I'M REALLY HIGH AND TACO BELL IS CLOSED! SEND HELP IMMEDIATELY!!!"

Re:zillion drunk texts (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47016757)

See my note above.

For example let's forget tinfoil hats and assume that for once the cops are on your side. You go visit them on a nice safe day and get a series of codes.

Then you folks work together to make a few pre-recorded 911 texts with those codes and stuff they will need as mentioned in the article. Responders are at work, it's not like chatting, they don't mind a Wall of Text. So with some sort of few keystroke system if you can send any of nine 911 text messages in 12 seconds, that's gotta be plenty for them to get started with. Yes on the rare case you send that as a joke you get a fine, but the life saving side will way outweigh it;

Re:Better in thought than in practice (1)

alen (225700) | about 5 months ago | (#47017005)

and being that they will have proof from the phone owner they can start ticketing and arresting people the next day

Re:Better in thought than in practice (2)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about 5 months ago | (#47017393)

and being that they will have proof from the phone owner they can start ticketing and arresting people the next day

Except in Colorado, where that's now a legitimate emergency situation.

Re:Better in thought than in practice (3, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 5 months ago | (#47017203)

This is great idea, right up until they start receiving a zillion drunk texts or things like "EMERGENCY!!! I'M REALLY HIGH AND TACO BELL IS CLOSED! SEND HELP IMMEDIATELY!!!"

Obvious solution: The hefty fines ($200 per call in California) for making non-emergency voice calls to 911, could also apply to non-emergency text messages.

Re:Better in thought than in practice (1)

simpsone (830935) | about 5 months ago | (#47022459)

Except those fines are very rarely enforced. With cell phones you don't actually know precisely who or where the call is coming from. It frequently takes abuse in the thousands or tens of thousands of calls before action is taken.

Re:Better in thought than in practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017373)

This is great idea, right up until they start receiving a zillion drunk texts or things like "EMERGENCY!!! I'M REALLY HIGH AND TACO BELL IS CLOSED! SEND TACOS AND BURRITOS IMMEDIATELY!!!"

ftfy

Examples... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47016719)

OMG! I ran over some1! LOLZ!

I stopped breathing! Where u at?!

Re:Examples... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47018605)

y u no halp?

Pop-up ads now (1)

lexman098 (1983842) | about 5 months ago | (#47016723)

Is the huge ass pop up really necessary? There's already a huge ass banner ad at the top. I used to be able to turn ads off because of my high karma. I'm not sure what happened to that.

Re:Pop-up ads now (1)

jason777 (557591) | about 5 months ago | (#47017127)

Yeah..its even more awesome when browsing on a mobile phone.

Re:Pop-up ads now (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about 5 months ago | (#47022025)

Pop up ads? I haven't seen those in well over a decade. Are there still browsers that don't allow turning that uncivilized behavior off? At the very least consider using adblock or noscript, as they greatly speed up your internet.

Re:Pop-up ads now (1)

lexman098 (1983842) | about 5 months ago | (#47022849)

It's not an actual window pop-up. It's a javascript thing that raises it up from the bottom. I normally don't like ad-blockers because it removes the revenue source from pretty much every website.

Dieing am syrious, no lol (1)

NotDrWho (3543773) | about 5 months ago | (#47016729)

Is help?

Only for for US Customers!!! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47016743)

Typical American company, treating us as second class customers. Hell, when we call 911 we get rerouted to another number. Total sham.

will it work with no plan? work with blocked txtin (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 5 months ago | (#47016813)

will it work with no plan? work with blocked txting?

I had to block txting as I was paying for incoming spam txts.

Re:will it work with no plan? work with blocked tx (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47016853)

I think you make a good point. These services tend not to flesh out as fast as they need to. But for example any of the dating apps are free (with ads) via Wifi (in your home) So if they really wanted to drill this out (see my note above, emergency codes help) you could for example text 911 on a dating site for free.

It comes down to how much they want to actually help people vs the political capital. It's not hard to monitor "911" on any of thirty dating apps if they spread the word to solve exactly the problem you mentioned.

XMPP? (1)

koinu (472851) | about 5 months ago | (#47016815)

The only way, I "text" people.

Autocorrect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47016871)

I for one cannot wait for the damn you autocorrect 911 screenshots.

Re:Autocorrect (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017193)

"Please help. Pen is stuck in my friend's hand"

captcha: probings

Topic getting buried!? (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 5 months ago | (#47016915)

Okay, this is kinda an important topic and too many junk post are threatening to bury it so I will keep raising a couple of new avenues to discuss.

It's a weird collection of states. Pasted:
Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Virginia

Linear:
Colorado
Georgia
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Maine
Maryland
Montana
New York
North Carolina
Ohio
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
Texas
Vermont
Virginia

Re:Topic getting buried!? (2)

Bigbutt (65939) | about 5 months ago | (#47016947)

Well Illinois was the first site we set up to use/test Text 2 911 and since we're based in Colorado, maybe that's why it's there (unlikely though, Boulder County uses our competitor's Reverse 911 system). But in general it's going to be up to the various phone companies and PSAPs as to who buys into the service.

[John]

Re:Topic getting buried!? (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about 5 months ago | (#47017145)

For Pennsylvania, texting 911 is about all the majority of people can handle. Attempting to communicate anything more complicated would really be stretching it.

PSAP Technology (1)

Bigbutt (65939) | about 5 months ago | (#47017067)

One problem is that 911 isn't implemented in all the US states. Something like 98% of the US is covered by 911. And riding my bike into Canada, there are places where there are signs that say "911 not available past this point". Another point is there are many PSAPs still using very old technology. With a small population, they may not see the need (or have the funds) to buy into a large infrastructure. That's why there are going to be so many different methods of Texting. In larger areas you can send text, pictures, and video. But smaller areas will be limited to just text or nothing at all. Plus it depends on the service being used. New York rolled out a Text 2 911 service a couple of years back where you can't send pictures or video but there's another company providing a more robust, fully integrated video and picture upload capability (note that I work for this company but only as a sysadmin).

[John]

Ob (1)

Richy_T (111409) | about 5 months ago | (#47017261)

Dear Sir/Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire that has broken out on the premises of 123 Cavendon Road... no, that's too formal.

[deletes text, starts again]

Fire - exclamation mark - fire - exclamation mark - help me - exclamation mark. 123 Cavendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. Yours truly, Maurice Moss.

Use cases (2)

Camaro (13996) | about 5 months ago | (#47017283)

I read the article (gasp! Shocking, I know) and recognise there are certainly important use cases for texting 911. But I work in EMS on a volunteer basis and I would think that in most cases voice calls would work far better, especially in medical situations. There can be a lot of helpful information that can be transferred in a more timely manner that way. Symptoms, time of onset, if situation changes during time of response, number of patients. Working in a rural area it can also be challenging to get an accurate location. In some situations, the 911 operators will also guide the caller in providing early care, such as CPR in a cardiac patient. So yeah, if one is physically able, and it's safe to do, take the time to talk to 911. They know what questions to ask and they will pass that information to the responding agencies so they know what to expect on arrival. Doing the same thing by text would only slow things down.

HELP ME LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017301)

BLEEDING TO DEATH ROFLCOPTER

OMG!! hve leg brkn leg. send hlp. k thx LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47017491)

OMG!! hve leg brkn leg. send hlp. k thx LOL

Help! I catamaran and I'm Breaking Bad! (1)

stonecutter2 (940299) | about 5 months ago | (#47017947)

I could probably get help a lot faster via text than a phonecall, in theory. But I have a feeling that auto-correct would fail me at the most inopportune moment. I type "Help! I cut my arm and I'm bleeding bad - nobody is home with me!" iPhone sends: "Help! I catamaran and I'm Breaking Bad - nobody Ishmael with me!"

For US customers? (1)

lolococo (574827) | about 5 months ago | (#47019293)

Didn't you mean for US citizens, or has the difference vanished nowadays? I smell cynicism on a large scale here ...

Former 911 operator (1)

p51d007 (656414) | about 5 months ago | (#47020465)

I volunteered as a 911 operator, for a sheriff's department (county population around 400,000) for over a dozen years. When cell phones started to take off in the 90's, it was quite COMMON to know that something was going on when the phones lit up pretty much at the same time. Also, with the stupidity of the average U.S. citizen, they would call for some of the dumbest things, that were never an emergency. I remember once, I already had fire & ambulance ON SCENE of a 2 car injury crash on an interstate highway. In other words WE WERE ALREADY THERE, and the phone rang and some idiot called to tell us about the wreck we had ALREADY arrived on, 10-20 minutes earlier. Now, give everyone the ability to text to 911, and they will have to send the bulk of dispatchers to school, to learn how to type "in text talk". With young adults & kids speaking "in text" most dispatchers will have to be trained again LOL.

Don't do it (1)

simpsone (830935) | about 5 months ago | (#47021861)

As a professional who answers 911 calls, I give this approximately 15 minutes before someone drunkenly texts in a selfie of their wang.
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