Lancaster 911 launches text-to-911 for Verizon Wireless customers

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The Lancaster County Board of Commissioners is pleased to announce that Verizon Wireless customers in Lancaster County will now be able to send a short message service (SMS) text message to 911 for emergency help when unable to make a 911 voice call.  A presentation will be given at the weekly County Commissioners’ Meeting scheduled on Wednesday, November  13, 2013 at 9:15 a.m. at the Lancaster County Government Center.   This system will be activated following the Commissioners’ Meeting and service will be available to any Verizon Wireless customer within the range of a Lancaster County cell tower.  Text-to-911 is intended primarily for use in two emergency scenarios:  for an individual who is hearing or speech impaired and for a person who is unable to make a voice call, for example, during a medical emergency that renders the person incapable of speech, or in the instance of a home invasion, or abduction.

“The safety of residents and visitors in Lancaster County is our number one concern.  Text-to-911 could be a life-saver, especially for people who might otherwise not be able to make a voice call.  I congratulate the staff of Lancaster County-Wide Communications, the county’s 911 center, for their work in establishing this service and for setting an example for other 911 centers,” said Scott Martin, Chairman of the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners.

“Verizon Wireless and TeleCommunication Systems, Inc. (TCS) have been at the forefront of working with public safety stakeholders to bring text-to-911 to our customers,” said Richard Craig, director of engineering for Verizon Wireless.  “The SMS911 National Gateway enables us to bring reliable emergency communications to public safety answering points (PSAPs), also known as 911 centers, across the country.  We were proud to work alongside the team at Lancaster County-Wide Communications and TCS, to deploy this new solution.”

Important Information for Verizon for Verizon Wireless customers in Lancaster County:

                Verizon Wireless customers in Lancaster County should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911:

  • Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.
  • Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help.  Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.  It may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services in a text-to-911 situation because of the time involved.  Someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and the 911 dispatcher must read the text and then text back.
  • Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative since Lancaster County-Wide Communications will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text.  Text abbreviations, or slang, should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
  • Customers must be in range of cell towers in the 717 area code.  If customers are outside or near the edge of the county they may not reach Lancaster County-Wide Communications, which is in the 717 area code.
  • Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages.
  • Verizon Wireless customers who use Usage Controls should remove this feature to ensure full text-to-911 capabilities.
  • Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages.  The solution is available for customers who use the native SMS provided by Verizon Wireless.  Customers should consult their over-the-top (OTT) messaging provider to determine if and how text-to-911 is provided by the OTT application.
  • The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire, or emergency medical services.  Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to Lancaster County-Wide Communications through its non-emergency lines at:

                                717-664-1180 or 800-957-2677 for Police

                                717-664-1190 or 800-691-3473 for Fire and EMS

  • SMS911 should only be used to communicate between emergency help and the texter with no pictures, video, attachments, or other recipients appended to the message.

About the SMS Solution

The Verizon Wireless SMS911 National Gateway has three text-to-911 delivery options:  a web browser solution known as GEM911™ for PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points) with Internet access and web browser capability; a Direct IP solution for Next-Generation IP-enabled PSAPs with call-taker workstations that have integrated text handling software; and an SMS to TTY/TDD solution for legacy PSAPs.

Lancaster County-Wide Communications joins the ranks of many PSAPs to use the SMS911 gateway; a significant step in making text to 911 available more broadly.  The deployment follows the recent announcement earlier this year from Verizon Wireless and TCS (NASDAQ: TSYS) that they are making a national text to 911 solution available.