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Franklin County, Pa., 911 Center Expands Texting Capability

Dispatchers had been able to receive text messages from Verizon and T-Mobile customers last year, but commissioners said Monday that AT&T and Sprint customers can now text in case of emergency.

by Public Opinion / March 17, 2015

(Tribune News Service) -- The Franklin County, Pa., 911 center can now receive and respond to text messages from customers of the four major mobile carriers.

Dispatchers had been able to receive text messages from Verizon and T-Mobile customers last year, but commissioners said Monday in a statement that AT&T and Sprint customers can now text in case of emergency.

Text to 911 was identified as a critical issue following the Virginia Tech shooting, according to Commissioner Robert Thomas.

Many students texted that there was an attack, but the center was unable to receive the messages. In addition, at that time, there was no bounce back message, so the students thought that their messages were received.

"Incidents like Virginia Tech's make implementing Text to 911 a necessity," Thomas said.

The FCC is requiring that wireless providers and 911 centers build the capability for people to text 911. All U.S. wireless carriers and other text messaging providers must support text to 911 by June 30, 2015, or six months from the date of the 911 center's request, whichever is later.

The ability to text 911 is not available in all areas. Franklin County becomes only the 11th of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania to be fully integrated.

"Text to 911 is critical during certain situations where callers cannot speak," Commissioner and Board Chairman Dave Keller said. "It's incumbent upon us to make it easy for the public to communicate with us, especially in times of emergency, and text to 911 helps us do exactly that."

Texting is also the primary means of communication for individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Franklin County began bringing carriers online last year as the carriers made the necessary improvements.

Verizon was the first carrier to come online in April 2014 and T-Mobile followed in October. Sprint and AT&T came online in recent weeks.

"I'm proud that we're leading the way in bringing this new public safety improvement to Pennsylvania," Commissioner Bob Ziobrowski said. "If we had not made key decisions over the past several years to keep up to date with the latest technology in emergency dispatch, we would not be in position today to provide this important service to the community."

The system in use in Franklin County utilizes current technology at the center known as Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, or TDD, which speeds up the processing of the message and allows the dispatchers to utilize their existing skill set, thereby reducing training, integration time and cost to the industry, the mobile phone user, and taxpayers.

©2015 the Public Opinion (Chambersburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC