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Minnesota starts regionally in pursuit of statewide text-to-911 implementation

by Urgent Communications contributor
May 11, 2018

Deploying text-to-911 service regionally is the fastest, simplest and most efficient way to provision a lifesaving service that the public not only expects, but craves.

The first step toward implementing text-to-911 service in Minnesota occurred in 2014, when the concept was presented to the Statewide Emergency Communications Board. Once the initiative was approved, the next step was to develop a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a vendor that could provision Text Control Center (TCC) services. The TCC is an interface between the wireless carrier networks and the PSAP environment. The TCC receives 911 texts and translates them based on the type of public-safety answering point (PSAP) that will receive the message—legacy, transitional or fully Next Generation 911 (NG911)-compliant. In late December 2016, a contract was awarded to West Communications (formerly Intrado).

A decision had been made from the outset that the implementation would occur on a statewide basis for the reasons cited above. Fortunately, the state’s PSAPs were of a similar mindset. In fact, they signed an agreement stating that they would not deploy the service on an individual county basis, nor would they contract individually with any TCC service provider. That collaboration and buy-in were key factors that helped to speed the implementation work that ensued during the next 12 months after the contract award.

Further collaboration that proved extremely useful took the form of a working group that developed a text-to-911 operational standard. Each of the seven regions was represented, provided input into the standard-development process and vetted the draft standard. This was an important step toward ensuring a consistent level of service, regardless of the 911 texter’s location.

A key decision that was made concerned integrating the text-to-911 capability into the call-handling solutions of both West (VIPER) and Airbus DS (VESTA, which is now owned by Motorola Solutions). The primary reason for integrating the capability was to avoid leveraging TTY or web-browser platforms. A TTY call takes considerably longer to process than a voice call, and we didn’t want to tie up a 911 trunk for an extended period of time; meanwhile, using a web-browser platform requires the telecommunicator to monitor two screens, which is inefficient and potentially distracting.

Both the VIPER and VESTA platforms are used throughout the state, so vendor neutrality was a must—largely to avoid forcing PSAPs from having to migrate from one platform to the other. With the chosen approach, PSAPs that employ equipment of relatively recent vintage but is incapable of handling 911 texts may be able to perform a software upgrade—a simpler, faster and far less costly endeavor.

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