Vermont Plans Text-to-9-1-1 Education Campaign (9/12/13)
Thursday, September 12, 2013 | Comments

By Kristen Beckman
The state of Vermont, which has been a frontrunner in testing text-to-9-1-1 technology, plans to begin a public-outreach campaign this month to educate citizens about the availability and benefits of the service.

Vermont has trialed text-to-9-1-1 with Verizon and Sprint, and launched a new trial with AT&T Aug. 23. As trials have ramped up, the state has had to walk a fine line to educate the public about the availability of text-to-9-1-1 while explaining that coverage is not universal.

“Education is a chicken-and-egg discussion,” said David Tucker, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 9-1-1 Board. “If you push for public education before there is a broad enough base, you risk confusing the people you want to use the service. The last thing you need is to have someone being confused about having service and trying to use the service during an emergency and not being able to do it.”

The trial service launched with Verizon in April 2012 remains operational even though the trial has officially ended. A second trial with Sprint was successful, but the service was discontinued after the trial because of changes the carrier made to its network and to implement bounceback messages.

With the addition of AT&T and commitments from other major carriers, Tucker said about 90 percent of the state will now have access to text-to-9-1-1 service, and that is what prompted officials to start working on public outreach. The state has received about 185 texts to 9-1-1, most of which were people testing the system. About 15 texts were legitimate reports of crimes, and two of the texts resulted in interventions in a suicide attempt and a domestic violence situation.

Vermont is working with a media consultant to develop television spots scheduled to begin airing this month. The state also is reaching out to the deaf and heard-of-hearing community via YouTube videos with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to communicate the availability of the service. The state also plans to use Facebook and other social media tools to reach a broader audience.

Tucker said Vermont plans to spend about $40,000 on media campaigns and has adopted the slogan, “Call if you can, text if you can’t.”

The text-to-9-1-1 capability is possible through Vermont’s hosted call-distribution system supplied by Intrado in partnership with the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) FairPoint Communications.

In addition to text-to-9-1-1, the system allows the state’s eight public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to back up each other via a multitiered system. The first tier routes a call to the PSAP designated to cover that area. If that PSAP is unable to handle the call, the call rolls to a statewide queue, and the calltaker who has been online and idle the longest will receive the call.

“The system as it is designed distributes and manages calls dynamically so a single point of failure doesn’t cripple the system,” said Tucker. He said during Hurricane Irene in 2011, the system stayed up and running despite one PSAP shutting down for 23 hours because of high waters. That PSAP logged off the system, and calls were rerouted to backup PSAPs, he said.

“During that high-volume event, we are not aware of a single 9-1-1 call that was not answered,” said Tucker. “We had some challenges with the amount of emergency responders who were available to respond to calls we were getting or responding as quickly as we wanted, but the 9-1-1 system managed calls appropriately.”

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