On June 7th, the IJIS Institute, Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate and Google hosted the Text-to-911 TechFest at the Google campus in Kirkland, Washington. The Tech Fest was designed to encourage nationwide efforts to improve technologies in support of public safety communications and response.
Sending texts to 911 to request help from public safety-fire, emergency medical services or law enforcement is becoming more common across the U.S. The TechFest brought together key thought leaders on the subject from multiple disciplines to help address current concerns in use, implementation and public education around Text-To-911, particularly for people with limited English proficiency who are trying to communicate with public safety officials.
The TechFest validated that public safety officials currently depend on machine translation for handling non-English text to 911 and sought to understand the efficacy of machine-translation software to support life and safety calls for assistance. Furthermore, the event's investigation of Language Service Provider (LSP) “coaching” of machine-translation will result in implementation guidance for operational and technical findings and recommendations. At the national level, the lack of a national program and clear funding stream to support next generation 911 efforts continues to result in a patchwork approach with implementation by jurisdiction, which creates challenges for adoption, standardization, and affordability.
Next steps for the project include additional collaboration between public safety emergency call centers, industry technology providers, and language service providers, to address affordability of a commercially-available, public-safety-grade solution for Text-to-911 translation.