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Texting 911 Will Come First To Johnson County

Text messaging 911 service is likely to come to one part of the metropolitan area within the year. But the startup will involve a special kind of texting technology for deaf persons using landline phones.

In a report to the Kansas City City Council, MARC Public Safety Director Keith Faddis says the main focus of early testing is mainly in Johnson County and on the TTY system.  Johnson County is the location of the Kansas School for the Deaf, and Faddis says it already has considerable TTY message traffic.

But, he says, until some technical limitations are worked out, conventional smartphone texting is far from ideal for 911 use – even in a situation it seems perfect for at first glance.

“In a domestic violence situation or hiding from an intruder and they're trying to send you a text because they don't want to make noise, we can't assume that they have silenced their phones," he explained.

There are a number of other shortcomings to be resolved for texting 911 on conventional cell phones. For example, location information is not built into text messages, though many people assume it is.

Also, cell tower coverage areas often include multiple emergency responder jurisdictions, necessitating a 911 message-routing system. 

Faddis says full 911 texting will arrive within the next few years, but is likely to never provide the richness of information that a phone call does. For example, he notes that with a phone call the 911 operator can detect the emotional status of the caller as well as hear background sounds such as shouting or gunshots that help understand the urgency of the caller's situation.


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