NENA Releases Guide to Handling Text-to-911 in the PSAP

Written by KOVA Corp

As the call for PSAPs to accept 911 texts becomes more and more widespread, it appears inevitable that emergency call centers will soon have to deal with this additional method of communication. In order to prepare PSAPs for this likelihood, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) has released a guide to handling texts to 911, including PSAP management considerations as well as public education recommendations.


NENA’s first suggestion is that managers of emergency call centers perform a call traffic study “to benchmark current call volume to existing staffing levels. This data should then be used to plan for an incremental call volume growth with the introduction of Text-to-9-1-1, and a subsequent need for an increase in staffing. The typical duration for a text message to 9-1-1 may be considerably longer than a voice call to 9-1-1.”
It continues, stating that “in order to provide a comparable service level in regards to answer delay and call processing for text messages, it is important for PSAP managers to begin reviewing their potential staffing needs so that, if necessary, positions can be budgeted and allocated for within a reasonable amount of time of implementing texting to 9-1-1 in their community.”

Workforce Training

An employee-training program will then need to be implemented, to ensure that all 911 call center agents are adequately prepared to deal with incoming texts. NENA recommends that employees first be taught common texting lingo, including acronyms and emoticons. Then, procedures for handling more than one text session at once should be set forth. No more than three texting conversations should be held at one time, however. A set of pre-programmed messages should be developed, including a greeting, specialized messages for police, fire, and EMD, and an end-of-call message. And last but not least, employee training should focus on the differences between written and oral communication, and should show agents how to take control of a conversation and situation through the written word.

Education of the Public

The public education necessary to the successful implementation of a text to 911 program includes several elements. First, the public should be made aware that voice calls to 911 are always preferable to texts. Texts simply take longer, since they have to be typed, then travel through the system, then be read by a 911 agent, who then has to type a response. And that is the best case scenario. Especially in times of disaster or emergency, text transmission can sometimes be delayed. The length restrictions on a text can also pose a problem, as can the fact that location information is not included in a text transmission, and must be included in the message.

Importance of Implementing 911 Text Messaging

Situations occur in which texting 911 is the only available and/or safe option. These include domestic violence, home invasions, school violence incidents, or situations in which silence helps keep an individual safe. Texting is also beneficial for those who are deaf or who have speech difficulties.

Because these situations are frequent and the traditional form of calling 911 can prove a safety risk, call centers and software developers need to consider texting 911 as a valid and reliable means of requesting help. The issue is attempting to get the same information (location, emergency type, texter identity, etcetera) through texts as through a call with a dispatcher. A system needs to be developed that can automatically pull up a registered name and home address from the number that is sending the text. Being able to ping an exact location from the same number quickly and accurately is another challenge.

As we transition into a more mobile, cordless world, we need to update the technologies to fit those who use them. And with life-threatening situations that require silence, this addition to call centers could see an increase in individuals being safely removed from their drastic situation. Though it is still in the developmental phase, adding this feature to a call center’s arsenal should be highly considered.

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