June 10, 2009 By Jim McKay, Editor
The speech and hearing impaired in Black Hawk County, Iowa, will soon have the ability communicate via text message with a 911 operator during an emergency.
A team of vendors -- including Intrado, i wireless, Positron Public Safety Systems and RACOM -- demonstrated the technology during a successful pilot. The county is scheduled to go live with the 911 texting some time in July.
The ability to text to 911 operators will allow the hearing and speech impaired to communicate wherever they are rather than relying on special home technology or a relay center. Texting also is seen as beneficial to the population as a whole since it's becoming a means of communicating by so many.
"We do know of situations where people can't talk," said Barbara Vos, E911 program manager of the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. "They still want to be able to provide [texting] to everyone in the future, but this is a baby step. This is one carrier with one county that we're testing."
Vos said text messaging may fill a void but it's still not as efficient as picking up a phone and calling 911. "We know text messaging could have a delay because it's not sent instantly like a phone call."