The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently joined the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute and Google to host the Text-to-911 Translation TechFest at the Google campus in Kirkland, Washington. The TechFest was designed to encourage nationwide efforts to improve technologies in support of public safety communications and response, particularly for people with limited English proficiency. The event included participation from technologists, public safety leaders, language service providers, and trade associations.
When DHS S&T and IJIS began the project in February of 2015, less than three percent of the nation’s 6,000 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), also known as 911 call centers, had implemented Text-to-911. Since then, not only has the number of PSAPs using the platform increased to 30 percent, but federal, state, and local laws have required call centers to ensure that the platform is available to the Limited English Proficient (LEP) population. Currently, almost 28 million people across the United States are identified as LEP and need to be accommodated as more PSAPs implement the technology in their respective communities.
“We anticipate the end result of this joint project will be a national standard for implementing Text-to-911 to LEP populations as well as operational, business, and training protocols that will ensure consistent national implementation,” said DHS S&T program manager Denis Gusty.
The TechFest provided insight to the advancements in currently available translation technology and also highlighted restrictions in translation, such as colloquial terminology and text shorthand. Overall, the TechFest revealed the need for further research and development to ensure 911 calls are answered efficiently and first responders are provided the correct information to respond.
Presently, DHS S&T and IJIS are researching best practices as well as interviewing experts in emergency communication, next generation 911 technology and public safety to develop standards that will be implemented nationally. DHS S&T and IJIS anticipate pilot tests with Arlington and Prince William counties in Virginia to test the protocols as well as determine estimated costs of nationwide implementation. These test pilots will begin in late summer of 2019.