State announces launch of Text-to-911 emergency service

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Rhode Islanders experiencing an emergency have a new tool at their fingertips.

The state this week announced the launch of its Text-to-911 system, which allows people to seek assistance through a text message to the state’s E-911 communications center.

“Text-to-911 is an important and potentially life-saving service, especially for anyone in a situation where they cannot talk safely on the phone or cannot physically call 911 for help,” Lt. Col. Kevin Barry, acting superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, said in a press release. “It also will serve as a valuable tool for the deaf and hard of hearing, since it provides an easier, more convenient way to report an emergency situation.”

According to Gregory M. Scungio, acting director of the Rhode Island E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System, investments in the equipment and software required to create the Next Generation 911 system that supports the texting service have been ongoing for more than five years. The total cost is estimated at $750,000.

Public safety officials say calling 911 remains the preferred method contact.

“It’s faster and more efficient than sending a text,” the press release reads. “There also are limitations and restrictions when it comes to texting, especially when it comes to locating the person sending the text. That is why it is important to remember: Call 911 if you can – text if you can’t.”

It continues,

“There is no guarantee that a text message will be sent or received in a timely manner, if at all. For other restrictions, please visit the Rhode Island E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System website at ri911.ri.gov.”

The release states that telecommunications personnel have been “trained in all facets of handling emergency texts” over the last several weeks. It also indicates that “additional personnel will be assigned to each shift to handle the text messages, given the additional time needed to process and respond to them.”

Live testing of the Text-to-911 began last week, the release states, and the first text received was regarding a large disturbance outside a residence. Telecommunications staff responded to the message and contacted local police, who in turn responded to the home and addressed the situation.

“We were pleased to see the system work exactly as designed, giving this individual a safe option for contacting 911 considering the circumstances,” Scungio said. “We are confident this service will prove invaluable in the future, especially when it comes to providing emergency services to those unable to call.”

“Ensuring the safety of Rhode Islanders is my top priority, and I’m glad that this critical public safety service is now available,” Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said in the release. “Being able to text 911 will allow anyone to access to emergency services even if they are unable to place a call.”

“On behalf of 210,000 deaf and hard of hearing Rhode Islanders, we are extremely appreciative of Rhode Island E-911 and their efforts to upgrade the 911 platform over the past couple of years,” Pamela Zellner, interim executive director of the Rhode Island Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said in the release. “The upgraded E-911 platform will enable Text-to-911 service, a vital service when text-enabled messages are the primary source of communication for deaf and hard of hearing citizens during times of emergency.”

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