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Press Release

Press Release Enhanced Education and Promotion of Silent Call Feature Needed in State 911 System, Audit Shows

The silent call feature is used to communicate with individuals who are not able to speak because they are deaf or hard of hearing, or if it’s unsafe to speak.
For immediate release:
6/30/2021
  • Office of the State Auditor

Media Contact for Enhanced Education and Promotion of Silent Call Feature Needed in State 911 System, Audit Shows

Noah Futterman

An image of a police car.

BostonToday, the Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump released an audit of the State 911 Department that found it did not effectively promote and educate the public about the statewide 911 emergency call system’s silent call feature. The silent call feature is used to communicate with individuals who are not able to speak because they are deaf or hard of hearing, or for other reasons such as experiencing a medical emergency, or if it’s unsafe to speak. The audit examined the period of July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2019.

The audit recommends the State 911 Department improve its promotional outreach of services through the distribution of materials, including brochures, telephone stickers, and children's educational materials. This outreach should also be directed at state entities as well as non-profit groups that serve vulnerable populations that would benefit from being educated on how to use the silent call feature. Specifically, state agencies such as the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Office for Victim Assistance, the Department of Developmental Services, as well as non-profit groups such as DEAF, Inc., Jane Doe, Inc., and the SafeLink Domestic Violence Hotline where advocates are bilingual in English and Spanish to help victims of domestic violence. 

“The 911 emergency system is a lifeline for people in moments of crisis and it is essential that it be available to every person, with every need, at every hour of the day. Our audit makes clear that although the system is working effectively, its services and features, including silent emergency calls, could be better promoted in our communities,” Bump said. “The department should continue to work with municipalities to ensure every single resident knows the protective tools at their disposal when making an emergency call.”

The silent call feature was originally established in 1998. To initiate a silent call, the telecommunicator asks the caller to press one for police assistance, two for fire assistance, or three for an ambulance. The telecommunicator can ask yes-or-no questions, and the caller can respond by pressing four for yes and five for no. Landline calls indicate addresses automatically; cellphones indicate the nearest cell tower.

The State 911 Department is responsible for the coordination, administration and implementation of 911 services throughout the Commonwealth. It is also responsible for overseeing the statewide 911 emergency call system provided by municipalities and private companies through PSAP call centers for emergency services and ensuring 911 access for people with disabilities. In 2019, there were 3,475,240 calls to 911. The Department’s annual budget is funded by the Enhanced 911 Fund which is supported by a surcharge assessed on subscribers to wireline and wireless services, including prepaid mobile phones and voice over Internet protocol phones.

The full audit report is available here.

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Media Contact for Enhanced Education and Promotion of Silent Call Feature Needed in State 911 System, Audit Shows

Office of the State Auditor 

The Office of State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump (OSA) conducts audits, investigations, and studies to promote accountability and transparency, improve performance, and make government work better.
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