Texting 911 for Emergencies? It Could Be a Reality After This Trial in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal

A new three-month trial being launched in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Peel will test the feasibility of Canadians being able to text 911 in emergency situations. The system aims to address the difficulties that deaf people and those with speech impediments have when trying to communicate with 911 services.

Announced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the trial will have at least 120 participants, equally divided between the four regions. Telus is the wireless carrier selected for the trial.

“It’s a huge safety issue for someone to be able to get hold of 911 services in a timely manner,” said Mandy Conlon, provincial accessibility coordinator for the Canadian Hearing Society’s 911 improvement project. “There are definitely people who have not been able to get a timely answer to their 911 calls specifically because of this issue, they don’t have access to 911 the way a hearing person does.”

“What this texting service does is it essentially bolts that location technology onto text messaging functionality so someone who is deaf, or who has a speech impairment and can’t talk to the 911 operator, can text the relevant information,” said Telus spokesman Shawn Hall. “It’s important that it works this way because it combines the powerful aspects of a voice call, particularly that location functionality with texting, and if you are unable to speak, you will be able to text information — such as ‘there’s a fire,’ ‘my spouse has had a heart attack. This will help bring the best possible 911 services to someone who is deaf or who has a speech disability.”

Photo: Ars Technica