In case of emergency

With a press release this morning, the CRTC announced the initial launch of text messaging for 9-1-1 services for hearing or speech impaired persons.

Hearing or speech impaired persons in the Metro Vancouver and select surrounding areas will be the first to get access to text with 9-1-1. The CRTC also announced that the City of Calgary is expected to make text with 9-1-1 service available as of March 24, 2014.

CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais says:

The availability of Text with 9-1-1 represents a significant advancement in emergency communications and will improve the safety of those who are hearing or speech impaired. We now call upon all emergency call centres across the country to work with their respective governments and expeditiously offer this important service in their areas.

It sounds great.

Regrettably, I am not convinced this is a service that truly meets the needs of the community it is intended to serve.

Just read the instructions on how to make a text 9-1-1 call. In addition to pre-registration being required, the number of steps required are hardly in keeping with what any of us expect from an emergency service bureau.

  • Unlock the cell phone keypad if it is locked. Some cell phones do not allow receiving and/or sending text messages if the keypad is locked, even though they allow a user to dial 9-1-1. “Unlocking” means entering your personal password or pressing an unlock button on the phone.
  • Dial 9-1-1 on your cell phone to place an emergency voice call.
  • Monitor the cell phone display to ensure that the call is connected. Shortly after the call is connected, you should receive an initial text message from a 9-1-1 call centre. If you do not receive the initial text message within two minutes, you may end the voice call and redial 9-1-1.
  • The number you will see on your cell phone will have 13 digits and will begin with 555911.
  • Once the initial text message is received, you should reply to this text message and provide the 9-1-1 call taker with the information that they are requesting, such as the nature of the emergency and your location. Keep your text messages brief and concise.
  • You should keep the 9-1-1 voice call connected during the entire text messaging session if possible. This will permit the 9-1-1 call taker to hear any background noises that can be helpful to assess the emergency, and will provide enhanced 9-1-1 functions.
  • You will know that the T9-1-1 session has been concluded when you receive the message “End of 9-1-1 Call”.
  • After receiving the “End of 9-1-1 Call” message, if you need to further communicate with the 9-1-1 call centre, you will need to initiate a new text session by dialing 9-1-1 to re-establish contact with the 9-1-1 call centre and communicate again by replying to the text message.

I lost faith with the line “If you do not receive the initial text message within two minutes, you may end the voice call and redial 9-1-1.”

Not every phone is even compatible with the requirement to keep a voice call active while simultaneously opening up a texting session. Each carrier has a list of compatible phones on their text 9-1-1 web pages. We have a solution designed to enable text messaging – a 20 year old technology – that can only be used from a phone that supports more advanced messaging applications. The service simply will not work from older devices.

The CRTC was warned last Friday by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) that there were serious concerns with today’s announcement.

There is great risk that many believe the 9-1-1 system can provide fast and effective response to emergencies, when the technological reality is quite the opposite.

The OPP letter says that the police had previously asked the CRTC to consider province wide roll outs of the service to ensure members of the affected user community could be more confident of service in all areas of each province. Instead, the instructions page tells users to confirm they are in a coverage area.

The OPP letter concluded “urgently and respectfully request[ing] the CRTC either reverses the decision or discourages the practice of sending Text with 9-1-1 calls on legacy 9-1-1 networks.”

How did the CRTC respond to this urgent appeal? Given today’s announcement, it appears that the Commission did not give police concerns enough weight to justify a delay in implementation.

The text to 9-1-1 solution appears to be a solution that sounded better in the design than it turned out in practice. Was there sufficient consultation with the user community and consideration of broad user adoption?

How well did this solution score in focus groups considering user interface alternatives?

Should people need a training course and have to invest in new mobile handsets in order to make emergency calls?

10 thoughts on “In case of emergency”

  1. I see a lot of negatives from a person that can hear and speak that has already a 9-1-1 service but perhaps Mr. Goldberg should try and use TTY to reach a PSAP which is only analogue landline. This T9-1-1 is a mobile step for those that communicate mainly on hand held wireless devices and I would like to see a 20 year old technology device still in use. That would be 1994 iPhone, Galaxy, Blackberry were not even around 20 years ago where has this Goldberg been? If he were a member of the DHHSI community he would know that this groups main communication tool is the wireless hand held device and most are more capable than the hearing in how they are used. Yes it is new and no different than your new TV remote to learn what the features are you read the instructions.

  2. “This” Goldberg? This Goldberg doesn’t think the solution was good enough. This Goldberg thinks that emergency access shouldn’t be limited to those who pre-register and can remember the training manual at a time of emergency. This Goldberg would have had the courtesy of considering and being responsive to an urgent request from Ontario’s provincial police force.

  3. A Rendall,

    You may not realize that I was the one who raise the concern about T911 as I have a lot of respect for Mark’s experience with telecom policy. He was able to bring this issue upfront from what I see the real problem between 911, CWTA and CRTC.

    It had nothing to do with hearing’s experience. You may not realized that the problem is that more than half of all calls to 9-1-1 come from mobile phones, and 75 per cent of Canadian homes have access to a wireless phone. What more is that Canadian DHHSI are moving into mobile phone.

    Last January, When CTWA announced release T9-1-1 solution. I went thru technical review on T9-1-1 system. I found several serious flaws in this T9-1-1 process. They are asking us DHHSI requires to register T911. That is where I step in because it is not “Functionally Equivalent Communication” access.

    There are several scenarios that would create more barriers from that “require to register” T9-1-1 call. I do have a problem with the line “If you do not receive…”

    The problem is “There is no single authority responsible for 911 services” – Timothy Denton, CRTC commissioner.

    For this reason, T9-1-1 is for anyone.

  4. T9-1-1 was specifically developed for DHHSI until NG9-1-1 comes into effect. This was specifically designed to identify a DHHSI caller so PSAP would realize the caller is deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired. The system can as it is a bridge system until DHHSI has NG9-1-1 like everyone at some point, access to emergency service on a mobile handheld wireless device anywhere 9-1-1 is offered to the hearing public at present, this includes roaming within Canada. This is the system designed and is functional. Even the FCC never thought it would work caller to PSAP direct even while roaming but it does. Why register, because the disabled DHHSI community has not had a functional mobile service until this one. Why didn’t it happen before? because no hearing person presented it to CRTC.

  5. If telecommunications was so simple Mark then NG9-1-1 that has been talked about for before T9-1-1 was on the scene, would have been instituted long ago. However, reality says it is not that simple to develop, test and launch. However this system will give DHHSI a bridge whilst awaiting NG9-1-1 that will be for everyone instead of nothing at all. Perfection comes from usage and embracing change. No one has made a call yet before it has been condemned and we are advise the DHHSI should wait for a perfect solution for all Canadians to use.

  6. It is good that you appreciate what it takes to build telecommunications systems. The challenge for those of us in the industry is to hide the complexity and deliver intuitive, easy solutions to the users.

    It was for that reason that some of my colleagues at Bell Labs had graduate degrees in music, others in geography, psychology or other non-engineering fields. We built services for everyone, not just engineers.

    And for emergency service access, I wouldn’t want to settle for anything less than perfection. Why should any of us?

  7. There are two issues at hand from my perspective. Those with hearing loss and speech difficulties should not have to settle for a substandard service. I totally agree with Mark’s comments. Texting to 911 the way in which it is now structured, is just that substandard at best. For some it will be very difficult to maneuver through. The big however here is… so what do we do in the interim while NG911 is being developed? This community has been without a 911 service for far too long. Our options are wait until a good system is in place with all the necessities or put something “substandard” in place so at least someone might get the help they need in the event of an emergency. So to both Mr. Rendall and Mr. Goldberg which is the better option?

  8. Anything is “substandard” compared to mythical, fast and easy to implement, intuitive, inexpensive solutions which do not exist. And certainly the Vermont solution does not meet that criteria either, even if it is closer to what a NG911 T9-1-1 solution hopes to be.

    Arthur states that the reference point is the existing state of 9-1-1 for the DHHSI community which is TTY. Canada’s T9-1-1 solution is significantly better than TTY. And for all of the “negatives” such as the requirement for registration (which is needed to ultimately overcome Vermont’s limitation of being unable to receive accurate location information from the caller), we’re not exactly weeks or months away from from the availability of NG911.

    The CRTC’s stance on timeliness for T9-1-1 is consistent in its decision to not wait an unknown number of years for a perfect solution to emerge as is it with regards to enocouraging launches on a per-911 Centre basis rather than waiting for an entire province to launch or all of Canada to launch at the same time. The tradeoff is the challenge in accurately and effectivitly communicating service availability before the service is widely avaiable accross Canada.

    It is unfortunate that CDMA phones are not compatible but I would expect that most if not all major carriers would allow DHHSI users to upgrade to eligible HSPA devices if they need to register for this service. (Investigation of this would make a good follow-up article)

    Lost faith caused by the instruction to re-dial 911 after 2 minutes is misguided- would you prefer the industry say nothing and have the caller wait 3/4/5/10 minutes waiting (and expecting) a response? Text messaging does not operate on the same level of reliability as voice. 95 times out of 100 the back and forth texts will be delivered within seconds. But for those times when it isn’t, shouldn’t the caller understand and have reasonable expectations?

    The OPP statement quote is used by Mark somewhat out of context. It is not a criticism of T9-1-1 but rather the CWTA website’s description of the availability of T9-1-1. And rather than offer that feedback in the days following that website’s launch on January 24th, the OPP waited until 5 days before the service was to launch on March 18th before raising their concerns with an overreactive request to delay to the launch date. Whether their concern is valid or not (and I tend to agree that it is), their suggested action (delay launch) was not realistic and I am glad the CRTC allowed the launch to proceed.

  9. I am posting a letter I sent to CRTC. Also, I have made a vlog about the letter for the deaf community. Firstly, the letter… (the vlog is referenced at the bottom).

    Mr. John Traversy
    Secretary General
    Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission
    Ottawa, ON K1A 0N2

    Mr. Traversy:

    Ms. Jody Robertson, Director of Corporation Communications & Corporate Secretary at EComm911 in Vancouver suggested that I contact you to express my concerns about the intent and purposes of the text-to-911 (T911) system that CRTC ordered for the deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired citizens. I am deaf.

    After two attempts at registering with Bell Mobility to gain access to the T911 programme, I came to a realization that the registration requirement might be a violation of my privacy rights. I feel that the only information my carrier should have about me are my address, my account number, and my ability to pay. I do not feel it is any of their business to find out about my being deaf. So to register with a carrier does not make sense because the T911 operating centres are independent of any carriers. I object to this registration.

    More importantly, this T911 programme is the first time I have encountered coming from the CRTC as being used exclusively for the deaf, hard of hearing, and speech impaired citizens. Teletype relay services, IP relay services, and televised closed captioning are open to all, not just these aforementioned citizens. These services are for the benefit of all. I will not discuss further how all obtain benefit from these services as that is not the point.

    My point concerns the exclusion of hearing people who can communicate verbally from the T911 programme. From my own experience as a deaf person, I know we have fought for equality with hearing people. However, we have never ever asked for special preferential treatment from any governmental bodies. I know that the CRTC completed its hearings on video relay services last October, and many of us emphasized that VRS is not for what the CRTC calls “hearing impaired”; it is for the benefit of all. I recall last fall that the CRTC has stubbornly viewed the VRS programme to be for the “hearing impaired” Canadians, and I am making this still another attempt to change its mindset. T911 should be for all! I want that mindset to prevail throughout the CRTC.

    An American friend of mine was asked by Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. about extending to only the deaf and speech impaired the T911 accessibility. He replied that he was opposed to this special preferential treatment from the FCC and that there are numerous occasions when the hearing people will want to use T911. As a result, in its website,, the FCC notes “Implementing text-to-911 will keep pace with how consumers communicate today and can provide a
    lifesaving alternative in situations…where a 911 voice call could endanger the caller.” They have had their Virginia Tech, Newtown, and other massacres. We do have our own share of violence here in Canada such as Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. Crime is on rise here in Surrey. To delay the availability of T911 for these hearing people is beyond my own ability to comprehend! Hearing people should have the right to select whatever method they feel the most appropriate and the safest to contact a 911 centre. We deaf people should have the same right to make the selection: through IP relay, through teletype relay service, and through texting.

    One feature of the Canadian T911 program disturbs me as a deaf person. It requires dialing, not texting, 911. In its website,, E-Comm 911 states that the caller must wait for a text response from a T911 dispatcher. It cautions the caller might have to wait up to two minutes for the response. If it does not come through, then the website suggests “If you do not receive a text from 9-1-1 within two minutes, end the call (hang up) and dial 9-1-1 again.” There is no way any type of emergency will wait two minutes!

    To reiterate my grave concern, why can’t one text immediately, “AMBULANCE NOW. HEART ATTACK”?

    That website implies we would have to reveal our locations. Why should we? My smartphone has a GPS program that any 911 operator can utilize to determine my location.

    In the United States, plans are underway to allow Americans to immediately text 911 as soon as it becomes universally available. Not here in Canada.

    May I suggest that the CRTC require the rapid widespread availability of T911 to all Canadians, eliminate the registration requirements, and allow quick texting instead of dialing. Until this is accomplished, may I suggest that the CRTC suspend the operations of T911. While I appreciate Ms. Robertson’s effort to have my carrier become accessible to the T911 programme, I no longer intend to register with them.

    Equality, not special preferential treatment (which at best is dubious), is what I am seeking for myself and all other Canadians!

    Thank you.

    Yours sincerely,

    Wayne Sinclair

    CC: Ms. Jody Robertson

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