A person uses their phone in the passenger compartment of a train or plane.

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A new tool to reach emergency responders is getting thumbs up.

Niagara 911 and local emergency services have launched a program that allows the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired members of the community to text 911.

The new technology, T9-1-1, allows emergency operators to communicate through text when the need arises.

It can be used whenever police, firefighters, Niagara EMS or Niagara Parks Police are required to respond.

“We’ve been working in excess of a year to get Text 911 up and running … It’s been a multi-step process,” Niagara Regional Police Staff Sgt. Dave Weeks said of the initiative, which is meant to increase accessibility of local emergency services.

To use the service, a cellphone must be registered for T9-1-1 with the phone’s service provider. The phone and its service plan must be capable of sending and receiving text messages.

There is no cost to register.

To use the service, users must first place a conventional voice call to 911.

That call is flagged as coming from a registered T9-1-1 phone and prompts the emergency operator to initiate a text chat with the device using a secondary software, Weeks said.

A call is first required to provide 911 with initial data about its source that cannot otherwise be immediately obtained through text.

Throughout the duration of the call and text session, the operator can hear background noise from the caller’s end, which will be used to add any pertinent information to the call log that may aid first responders.

“The reality is most of the callers who are registering do have the capability of either speech or hearing,” Weeks said.

Rather than conduct the critical conversation in writing in both directions, which can take substantially longer than a phone call, the caller can identify whether they’re able to hear or speak so the operator can conduct the conversation accordingly, he said.

“Our operator can do the typing and the caller can do the speaking or vice versa.”

While it has been suggested in some communities that texting 911 should be made available to the general public, Weeks said that concept comes with “a lot of pitfalls.”

“A conversation takes four to five times as long (by text) and it’s a constant battle here to answer these phones as quickly as possible,” he said. “We just want to get someone on the way to help.”

The service, if opened to all residents, would also require additional resources for added personnel, he said.

“When people understand the personnel that would be required as a result, they would say let’s just call.”

Connectivity may also be a hindrance as texts to 911 are reliant on the phone carrier’s network, whereas calls to 911 come through dedicated infrastructure that has redundancy and backup power sources built in, Weeks said.

Niagara 911 has no control over the delivery success and timelines of text messaging content.

Weeks estimated that less than 100 people in Niagara are expected to register for the service.

He stressed that no cellphone can initiate a texting session with 911, whether registered or otherwise. If a call from a registered phone is not first made, texts to 911 will not be delivered.

For more information on the service, visit www.textwith911.ca.

Source: Welland Tribune