- New York City launched its Text-to-911 service this week after years of delays, according to reports from the New York Daily News and other outlets.
- The launch comes as the city has seen an outbreak of racial justice demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. City officials reportedly wanted to keep the launch quiet as they were concerned the system would become overwhelmed with profanities and photos at a time when calls are up, according to The City.
- The service works in English and Spanish across the city's five boroughs. Officials said those texting 911 should use complete words and sentences, and avoid sending photos, videos, GIFs or emojis. The City estimates text-based requests take four to seven minutes for operators to address, based on other cities' experiences, compared to just 30 to 120 seconds for calls.
This initiative has been several years in the making under New York's NextGeneration 911 project, with Text-to-911 having originally been slated to go live in early 2018. When the NextGeneration 911 project first kicked off in June 2017, officials promised "a fully digital, state-of-the art system capable of interacting with New Yorkers through text messaging, photo and video, social media, and more."
But the project has been plagued with technical mishaps, as well as an apparent feud between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the city's Department of Information and Technology (DoITT). The City reports that the entire NextGeneration 911 system, which will use internet-based technology able to handle texts, videos, photos and phone calls, is expected to launch in 2024.
New York is not the only city to upgrade its 911 technology in a bid to increase operational efficiency and give residents more ways to report crimes and other incidents to public safety authorities. According to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are many jurisdictions and public safety agencies now running text-to-911 services, though the FCC notes adoption is uneven.
Chicago partnered in 2018 with Smart911 to provide personal, medical or situational information to first responders in the case of an emergency, while San Francisco said last year it would use cellphone location data from RapidSOS and Uber to help improve emergency response times. Nashville, TN has a similar deal in place with RapidSOS.
RapidSOS, just one of several tools available to first responders, has continually upgraded its technology offerings. In February, the company announced the launch of Jurisdiction View, a new tool that automatically displays the location of wireless 911 calls on a map, and updates based on device location if the caller moves.
In an opinion piece for Smart Cities Dive, Ralph Diment, director of industry & product marketing at Hexagon's Safety & Infrastructure division, said these tools and data-based approaches that give as much help as possible to first responders can save time and lives.