Most people believe that when they need it, they will have easy access to 911 and emergency services. However, for a variety of reasons, some communities may encounter difficulty in accessing 911.
Many deaf and hard of hearing callers must still use a teletypewriter (TTY) text telephone device or a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) to contact 911. Invented in the 1960s, these devices are cumbersome and slow to operate. Some PSAPs can now accept text-to-911, which is a great benefit for this community and others. A current list of PSAPs that are ready to receive text messages is available under “More Information.”
Rural and tribal communities may also face special challenges reaching 911 because of the sparsely populated large geographic areas served. Call-takers in rural PSAPs often perform a variety of duties not directly related to taking 911 calls. Also, since first responders may take longer to reach the scene of an emergency, call-takers stay on the phone longer with callers, providing more extensive pre-arrival instructions. In large metropolitan communities, dense populations present unique challenges. As wireless phones permeate the market, multiple callers may report a single emergency, such as a car crash. Metropolitan PSAPs face issues such as call overload, which may cause a fast busy signal for some 911 callers. In addition, PSAP staffing needs, sufficient training and call-taker experience are key issues in these large communities.
Many of these difficulties are being addressed by the upgrade of the current analog 911 phone system to a digital one. This initiative, called Next Generation 911 (NG911), is working to ensure that when callers from the aforementioned communities need to contact 911, they will be successful. NG911 will allow 911 requests via multimedia routes such as video chat and text messages.
The 911 industry is committed to creating training standards and funding in order to ensure that PSAPs in all communities are available and functional at all times.