Monday, March 12, 2012

3 ways to call 911 as deaf person in a community without “Next Generation 9-1-1”

In spite of amazing technological advances that have signficantly improved communication methods for deaf people in recent years, the technology used by emergency centers is still lagging behind. As such, reporting an emergency can still pose a challenge for a deaf person who is mostly using text and video phone to communicate with hearing and deaf people nowadays.

Some communities have already adopted the new
“Next Generation 9-1-1” system which allows people to send emergency messages via text and MMS. But most deaf citizens will have to rely on other methods to contact the authorities in the event of an emergency.

From the Federal Communication Commission:
"911 call centers or PSAPs currently lack the technical capability to receive texts, photos and video."

See the FCC Emergency Communications Guide for more detailed info.

From the Hillsborough Sheriff's Department in Tampa, Fla.:

"Thank you for contacting the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. In regards to your inquiry concerning which telephone numbers are available for the hearing impaired community to call into. The Sheriff's Communications Center is staffed with trained professionals who use state-of-the-art telephone systems which can accept and seamlessly communicate with any inbound TDD call, regardless on whether the call comes in via emergency line on 9-1-1 or via non-emergency line at 813-247-8200.

At this present time our systems are not capable of accepting inbound text (SMS, MMS) messages from cellular telephones, as it is currently under development and is considered to be one of the key additions to what is commonly referred to as “Next Generation 9-1-1”, which will be implemented in the upcoming years."

Needless to say, there aren't many deaf people left who still use TTY and TDD. As such, the option to call 911 via those devices has become almost obsolete. Nevertheless, there are 3 ways to report an emergency with current technology:
  1. Call 911 on your video phone. The interpreter will voice what you sign to the emergency dispatcher. Make sure your VP relay service provider has your current address for accuracy and faster help. You would not want the police or ambulance to go to the wrong location!
  2. Call 911 on your android/iPhone via VP apps. Install your VP relay service provider's app on your smart phone prior to an emergency and make sure you register with your current address to avoid sending help to the wrong location. Again, the interpreter will voice what you sign to the emergency dispatcher. This kind of app requires 4G so make sure it's part of your cell phone service plan.
  3. Push an emergency button on your android/iPhone. This app must be pre-installed and pre-configured. However, it will NOT alert the authorities. Instead it will send a person of your choice an emergency text and/or email with your GPS location and message. Ideally the message should say:"This is an emergency! Please call 911 and send help to this location." GPS coordinates will be attached to the message.

You should also contact your local police department to request the contact number deaf people can use. Not all police departments have special staff for communicating with the deaf community members, but it's certainly worth asking.

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