February 26, 2020
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New public information campaign aims to educate Mainers about emergency calling and texting to 911

Community Author: Harry Lanphear
Post Date:

HALLOWELL – The Maine Public Utilities Commission has launched a public information campaign to educate Mainers about calling and texting 911 in an emergency.  Two 30-second public service announcements will began airing statewide in August.

In one PSA, a heart attack emergency is dramatized with a woman calling 911 on her cell phone. This commercial reminds viewers to remain calm and provide answers to three critical questions: What phone number are you calling from? What is the address of the emergency? Exactly what happened?

A second PSA depicts a home invasion where a young woman texts to 911, a service that was expanded in December 2018.  Texting to 911 is available at all Public Safety Answering Points  throughout Maine and is the result of collaboration between the Commission’s Emergency Services Communications Bureau  and major wireless telecommunications carriers.  Maine was among the first states to launch this advanced technology.

The PSAs were produced and directed by David Fuller of AirStream Pictures of Auburn, Maine after winning a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Commission.  The Commission used real first responders and PSAP staff in the PSAs.

In 2018, 911 dispatchers answered 562,157 incoming calls, with 70 percent originating from cell phones.  The ESCB trains hundreds of dispatchers throughout Maine each year.  ESCB rules require 911 calls to be answered in ten seconds or less 90 percent of the time.

“Maintaining and continuously improving Maine’s statewide emergency 911 service is one of the Commission’s most vital safety services for all Mainers,” Commission Chair Phil Bartlett said.  “We train hundreds of dispatchers annually, and it is equally important to educate Maine people about effectively using the service.”

The Commission urges Mainers to keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911: The texting option should only be used when making a voice call to 911 is not an option.  Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to get emergency help; Providing location information and the nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative since the PSAPs will not receive the location of the cell phone.  Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible; Cell phone users must be in range of a cell tower in Maine.  If they are outside or near the edge of the state, the message may not reach a Maine emergency communications center; Texts sent to 911 have the same 160-character limit as other text messages; No pictures, videos, or other attachments can be sent with these emergency communications.

The Commission’s Emergency Services Communication Bureau manages the statewide 911 system, and first deployed text to 911 in 2014 using an older technology where two PSAPs answered texts for the entire state.  Maine’s 911 system and hardworking public safety dispatchers handled more than 560,000 calls in 2018 at Maine’s 24 PSAPs. Over 70% of these calls came from wireless phones.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission regulates electric, telephone, water and gas utilities to ensure that Maine citizens have access to safe and reliable utility service at rates that are just and reasonable for all ratepayers.  Commission programs include Maine Enhanced 911 Service and Dig Safe.

Learn more about the Commission at maine.gov