While texting has become a popular mode of communication, enabling public safety answering points to join the conversation in times of emergencies has proven difficult. 

Durham, N.C., began accepting text messages sent to its 911 dispatch center by Verizon Wireless customers on a pilot basis on Aug. 3. The test is expected to run through January 2012.

Local public safety officials see texting 911 as a way to reach hard-of-hearing individuals and people in situations where making noise could put them in greater danger.

In addition, media reports have highlighted instances in which disaster survivors were able to send text messages when their wireless phones did not have enough signal to complete a call.

As part of the pilot, Verizon Wireless configured its system to allow text messages to be sent to the Durham Emergency Communications Center, which installed software that recognizes that a text message sent to 911 is an emergency message. This means a text message sent to 911 by a Verizon Wireless subscriber within Durham is routed to the appropriate call center. Both the city’s communications center and Verizon are using Intrado systems to handle the messages.


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