Outbound "text-from-911" builds on text-to-911 successes
Text-to-911 has walked a slow path of growth since it’s introduction in 2009. Only 581,000 texts were sent to 9-1-1 in the last year of available data, according to the National 911 Report (2019), compared to nearly 250 million 9-1-1 calls made.
Text-to-911 is undoubtedly valuable, especially for non-speaking populations and in circumstances when the emergent party is unable to speak. The lack of usage, however, can be potentially attributed to three factors:
- Lack of capability in numerous communities (you can view the map here)
- Lack of awareness in communities where it is available
- Lack of utility for urgent situations when the caller is able to or feels the need to verbally describe their emergency
It should also be noted that public safety agencies promote a policy of "call if you can, text if you can't." Further, implementing and marketing text-to-911 functionality can be an expensive, time-consuming process for any local 9-1-1 administration, let alone cash-strapped agencies operating in an era of massive staffing shortages. While there’s no obvious solution to this issue, outbound text has shown great potential across the country to help those that need it.
First and foremost, the functionality helps eliminate one of the core issues at the heart of text-to-911’s slow adoption: lack of awareness. When a person is made aware that they can text through the emergency, a new channel of communication becomes available when, in their mind, it was not prior. Now that the caller is aware that they can easily send and receive texts, they are able to approach their emergency in a way that best suits their needs.
What does this look like in action? Here’s three examples.
Translation, translation, translation
Existing 9-1-1 processes for callers who do not speak English are arduous for telecommunicators and can cause undue stress on the caller. Critical time is lost determining what language is being spoken, finding a translator (or translation service), and then actually communicating through the chosen intermediary.
While Prepared’s 9-1-1 centers employ numerous protocols, one common mechanism to make the caller aware of Prepared’s text language translation is to simply send an outbound text first. From there, the caller can text back in their native tongue and the telecommunicator will see an automatically translated version of that same text.
Instead of losing time in a confusing back-and-forth, outbound text helps initiate the solution quicker than ever before.
Sometimes, people call 9-1-1 even though they can’t speak. Whether that is the result of the ongoing emergency or they are a non-speaker, the result is often the same: a hung-up call with no information gained by the telecommunicator.
By leveraging outbound text, telecommunicators can make these callers aware that they are able to communicate their emergency non-verbally. This can be essential in either of the aforementioned cases and has proven crucial in Prepared PSAPs around the United States.
In 2022, telecommunicators from one 9-1-1 center consistently used Prepared Live functionality to 1) request live video of the scene and 2) send outbound text to inform the caller that their goal was to simply confirm their safety. This lead to a staggering 35% drop in the percentage of time first responders were sent to investigate hang-up calls.
Sometimes there are 9-1-1 calls that don't command the most urgent response. While they warrant some response from public safety personnel, they might be shunted to the back of the line in favor of other, higher priority calls.
In this case, outbound text can help improve the caller's situation in multiple ways:
- Links to non-emergency channels (such as online forms or instructions), instructions for exchanging insurance information (in the case of non-medical vehicle accidents), or instructions to remain out of harm’s way
- Intangibly, an outbound text can help keep the caller calm and let them know that help is still on the way, even if they may have to wait a little longer
Rather than leaving a caller in the dark or having to verbally list out a link to visit, 9-1-1 professionals can use outbound text to bring clarity and calm.
While each of these use cases help community members get what they need, faster, they also help 9-1-1 professionals more quickly resolve incidents that normally might be a drain of time and resources. In any case: outbound text isn’t just the future, it’s the now.
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Note: Prepared Live enables 9-1-1 centers to send outbound text to mobile callers but is not a text-to or text-from-911 service.