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Text-to-911 Project Update

Posted By Michael Alagna, Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message for help to a Public-Safety Answering Point (PSAP), a call center responsible for answering calls to an emergency telephone number for police, fire and rescue, and emergency medical services. Sending Text-to-911 from a mobile device is becoming more and more common across the U.S. Approximately 30% of the 6000 PSAPs in the U.S. have implemented Text-to-911.

There are individual and public safety scenarios where calling 911 is not optimal. Domestic violence situations, home break-ins, car jackings, mass shootings, and hostage situations are just a few examples where calling 911 might draw attention to victims and could cause additional danger for the caller or exacerbate the situation. In addition to these aspects of Text-to-911, authorities say it can alert them to crimes in progress, thereby adding an analytical element as well.

For many citizens, residents, and visitors in America with Limited English Proficiency (LEP), emergency situations can become compounded when trying to communicate with public safety officials. Census data reveals that 61 million people nationwide speak a language other than English in their home and approximately 28 million people are identified as Limited English Proficient. Phone usage data shows that around 90% of non-English 911 calls were conducted in Spanish, with other non-English calls spread out among 150 other languages. In many circumstances, not long after PSAPs implement Text-to-911, they begin to receive non-English texts. The public safety community has identified a need for Text-to-911 translation, and this project that IJIS Institute is participating in is positioned to make significant strides towards meeting this need and positioning PSAPs for future adoption of Next Generation (NG911) services.

PSAPs currently depend on machine translation for handling non-English Text-to-911; however, many remain highly skeptical of machine-translation software. On the other hand, machine translation is accessible for free, will convert text in any of roughly 100 languages, and continues to improve. Many of the machine translation concerns revolve around the understanding and meaning of a text message. The project team looks to examine the accuracy of machine translation and if understanding is needed for effective translation. We will compare human and machine translation to assure that Text-to-911 emergency calls are interpreted correctly.

In addition to machine translation, the project will enable PSAPs to access real-time human interpreters or interpreting services to translate non-English Text-to-911 calls for help. By investigating Language Service Provider (LSP) solutions for machine-translation in PSAPs, we will report on operational and technical findings and recommendations.

This project has put in motion a collaboration between industry technology providers, language service providers, standards development organizations, PSAPs, and policy makers to address interoperability, technology, standards, and the affordability of commercially-available, public-safety-grade solutions for Text-to-911 translation.

For more information on this project, please contact me at michael.alagna@ijis.org.

Tags:  PSAP  Text-to-911  translation 

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