A Puerto Rican Standoff…

CALL FIRST IF YOU CAN; text911 if you can’t

Oftentimes, when it’s most needed, people are unable to call 911.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to get a message to 911 when you just can’t call?

Luckily, alternative measures to reach out for help are starting to flourish.  Apple  iphones and iwatches offer a five-click SOS feature (which, while relying on voice for the 911 portion, automatically fires off a text messages with your gps location to trusted friends or family).  Samsung offers a three-click SOS feature on smartwatches and phones like the S9.  Likewise, Gotenna, a communications device primarily for offgrid hikers, that works over long-range radio even when there’s no coverage available, also offers the 5-click SOS beacon to anyone within radio range.  Yet none of these products offer a way to send a message with your location quickly and easily  to 911 and let you get back to actually surviving until they arrive.  None of these services offer the ability to send a text to 911.  Why is this?

After a disaster scenario, the need to get a quick message out to 911 is all the more important.  Cellphone towers and 911 call centers may be overwhelmed with voice calls to loved ones and millions of attempts to post status updates to facebook or youtube.

A voice call to 911 may not always be possible.  Realtime two-way voice connection to 911 requires a pretty substantial amount of emergency resources bandwidth- in terms of at least: (1) cellphone to tower; (2) backhaul to 911 PSAPs; (3) operator manpower to answer, assess, triage, and route to appropriate first responders, not to mention the first responder resources to actually effect help.

In severe disaster scenarios all 3 of the above limited emergency resources can be drawn very thin and cascading failures can ripple out through the community.

Text 911 (which could help get messages out while simultaneously reducing the burden on these 3 limited emergency resources needed for traditional calls to 911 call centers) has not been fully implemented across the nation yet- in spite of an FCC mandate for it to be operational nationwide by 2014.  However, some increasingly disaster-prone places have fully implemented this service — some having had it for several years. Notably, Puerto Rico has had text911 since 2014 in all 78 municipalities, Los Angeles, DC, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, Denver, Austin, Jacksonville, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Bernardino, … with NYC and Chicago soon to be added to the list, which goes on and on. It may not yet be ubiquitous. But we are talking TENS OF MILLIONS of people in at least 6 of the 10 most populous cities in the U.S. and several whole states have blanket coverage including Indiana, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware, and New Jersey, with Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, and Iowa set to join by year’s end.

CALL FIRST, and if you can’t, if you are deaf, hearing impaired, if you are in a domestic violence situation, if you are in the trunk of a car being kidnapped, if the celltowers are saturated with calls, if you don’t have reception, if your battery is about to die… countless situations could benefit from the use of text to 911 services.  However, due to red tape, service providers, like e.g., Twilio — the leading cloud-based text and voice provider squarely refuses to let ANY of their customers use this text911 because it violates their terms of service and acceptable use policy.

After hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed satellite uplinks, smashed celltowers, radio repeaters, and power generation and delivery, made spaghetti out of telephone lines- the only operable communications platform available was Gotenna Mesh. It was uniquely attractive because it didn’t require telecommunications uplinks, didn’t require internet, cellphone, radio repeater nets, generators, FCC licensure, or the infrastructure links likely to fail. It was its own repeater network, it sipped its own battery power, it could be charged from a cellphone charger or a tiny solar panel and yet still give miles of range. When any single node in a Gotenna mesh had a signal, messages from anyone could be backhauled out to anyone in the world — anyone, including Puerto Rico or Houston’s text 911 system.

Gotenna is uniquely effective because it bypasses the weakest links in the telecommunications chain AND it addresses all 3 of the scarce emergency resources most likely to experience cascading failures: (1) using Gotenna to deliver gps-tagged text messages (a few hundred bytes in a single latency-tolerant data envelope) significantly frees up celltower voice bandwidth (tens of kilobytes per second per user); (2) frees up backhaul from the celltower to the 911; (3) frees up operators to respond to voice calls and allows a level of automation, triage, AI agent response, de-duplication, and gps authentication; and (4) where first responders are in the area (within up to six hops, where each hop can be between 1 and 62 miles) the first responders can respond directly to the request for help without any intervening infrastructure (in fact, the first responders automatically and without any degradation to their Gotenna become part of the infrastructure, filling in gaps as they search and rescue) — yet further, those with Gotenna devices often become volunteer responders, helping their neighbors and obviating the very need for outside assistance, freeing scarce first responder resources. Gotennas develop communities.

The only thing standing in our way, at least in Puerto Rico and Houston, and for tens of millions of other Americans, are provider’s like Twilio’s acceptable use policy. Perhaps they’ll reconsider- or perhaps Gotenna will consider another text relay provider that does allow text messages to be delivered to 911 call centers, like, e.g., Bandwidth or others? Lead, follow, or get the hell out of our way. It may not be as easy as flipping a switch… but it’s an endeavor worth making with tens of millions of Americans in areas who could benefit. Is it a silver bullet? No, emphatically no… but it gives a fighting chance where Twilio, in stark contrast, is content to fail us by never even trying.


“…who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Can we at least try?

Here’s a crazy idea… Twilio may not allow this on their text relay, but they seem to allow it on their elastic sip trunking, and they have an option to pre-define an emergency location. If there’s no other way to proceed, could Twilio servers receive the text911 message, run text and gps to voice, and deliver the message via the voip approach to traditional 911 voice PSAP centers? This would obviate their concerns about non-ubiquitous text911 service and sidestep the AUP for text relay.

#Twilio #Twilions #TwilioDontCare #ProfitsOverPeople Twilio.com Jeff Lawson, CEO jeffiel@twilio.com jeffiel Twilio Twilions #Gotenna #GotennaMesh #Text911 #GotennaPlus #smsRelay #PuertoRico #Taino #Taina #Boricua #Houston #Irma #Maria #Hurricanes Text911 Text 911


View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com



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