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Text-to-911 getting easier nationwide, coming soon to Utah

By Devon Dolan and Jordan Ormond | Posted - May. 12, 2014 at 10:44 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Customers of four major cellphone service carriers will have the ability later this week to text 911 for help. Though many Utahns subscribe to these companies, residents of the state won’t be able to use the service just yet.

As part of an agreement with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), cell carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon “have voluntarily committed to provide text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014, in all areas served by their networks where a 911 call center is prepared to receive texts,” the Federal Communications Commission states on its website.

The problem for Utahns is that texting 911 is not yet available in the state. But Eric Parry, director of the state’s 911 program, says the system could be up and running within the next three to six months.

“We’ve been, over the years, upgrading telephone calls and answer equipment and 911 centers across the state; so we’re more or less ready to go,” Parry said.

The real benefit will be to someone who can't talk, maybe because the situation they’re in is too dangerous (i.e. a home intruder); or someone who is deaf or has other hearing problems.

Marilyn Call, who is hard of hearing, said a service like this would have been invaluable during the more than 23 calls she made to 911 during her daughter’s epileptic episodes.

“I can’t understand them,” Call said. “I feel guilty that I’m the one that’s trying to get the help, and yet I can’t hear clearly enough.”

Once the system is up and going in Utah, Call will have a helpful tool to use in emergency situations.

Right now, Uthans who text 911 will receive an immediate "bounce back" message informing them the service is not available and advising them to make a voice call to 911. As of May 9, 16 states had the text-to-911 system up and running — but only in select areas.

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