The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has announced enhancements to 911 services that will enable Canadians who have hearing or speech impairments to communicate with 911 call centres via text message. Telephone and wireless companies must upgrade their networks to support this new feature by January 24, 2014.
The CRTC’s decision follows a 2012 trial to assess the feasibility of rolling out such a feature on a national basis. The trial involved the participation of telecommunications companies, Canadians with hearing or speech impairments and 911 call centres in Vancouver, Toronto, Peel Region and Montreal.
“Services such as 911 are critical to the health and safety of all Canadians,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, Chairman of the CRTC. “This initiative is a perfect example of how technology can be used to improve access to 911 services for Canadians with disabilities. I would like to thank those who participated in last year’s trial. Its success convinced us that expanding the initiative across the country is not only possible, but also in the public interest.”
As the service becomes available in different municipalities, Canadians with hearing or speech impairments must register their mobile phone number with their wireless service provider, and ensure that they have a compatible mobile phone. In the event of an emergency, they must first dial 911, and the emergency call centre will automatically receive notification to initiate a conversation by text message.
This feature will only be available in those areas where municipal and provincial governments have made the necessary changes to their 911 call centres.
For people who are not deaf, hard of hearing or do not have speech impairments, a telephone voice call is still the only way to receive assistance during an emergency situation. Furthermore, the CRTC reminds Canadians that text messages sent to “911” do not reach emergency services.
The CRTC will examine the future of Canadian 911 services in 2014-2015. To prepare for this review, it has appointed National Commissioner Timothy Denton to conduct research on current 911 services and the issues related to the provision of such services on next-generation telecommunications networks. His recommendations will be taken into consideration when the CRTC begins its review.