The FCC just designated 988 as America's suicide prevention voice line

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/19/the-fcc-just-designated-988-as.html

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Really great news. This is what the deep state actually looks like.

How hard would this be to implement? I know that I’m getting overly optimistic about November, even as cynical as I am, but what would it actually take to flip the switch by 2022?

Edited to clarify that I assume the best about most government workers and see their efforts as more long-lived than any administration. Let’s hope, anyway.

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Text to 911 exists but not every 911 call center supports it. So the infrastructure does exist but it might take a while to deploy. Obviously there are some different constraints and operational goals of 988, so maybe it will be higher priority or more practical for 988.

Interesting. Prefix collisions don’t matter for cell phones and many VoIP systems but land lines are still out there. I’d be curious if there was a plan for prefix reassignment or mandatory 10 digit dialing, or if they can use some sort of timeout : if a landline dials 988 and then pauses for more than X seconds direct to the hotline. I think most VoIP systems that emulate touch tone dialing already do this: the don’t know if a given number is valid they just wait for the dialer to pause and then send the accumulated number all at once to initiate the call.

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Does your area not 10 or 11 digit dialing? I thought 7 digit dialing has all but been phased out.

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In the US, at least it is pretty common (if not the rule) to only have to dial 7 digits within the area code being called. Country code is only necessary when dialing outside of the country.

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There are places in the States where you don’t have to dial the full 10 digits?

I haven’t found that to be the case in rural Indiana, so I assumed it was national at this point.

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I don’t have a landline, so YMMV, but I rarely have to dial all 10. Hudson Valley, NY.

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That’s not very common any more. 7 digit dialing even for local calls has been phased out in a lot of states and metropolitan areas. I’d have to imagine it’s pretty rare these days for 7 digit dialing to work. I know every time I’ve tried this in the past decade by accident or out of habit I’ve had my call rejected telling me to dial with an area code.

Anecdote: back in the 1990s I worked for a national ISP and I had to spend a lot of time dealing with dual-up service customers getting the the wrong combination of 7/10/11 digit numbers. They would end up either being unable to reach the POP, or worse yet dial a long distance number and we’d have to reimburse those charges. Never mind the hell we’d catch if some poor schmuck’s home got called as a result.

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So, when 988 is a thing, what will happen to the 1800 number?

“We are experiencing a higher-than-usual volume of calls. Please hold, and an operator will be with you shortly. Your projected wait time is … 144 … minutes.”

It’s not only about deploying the infrastructure, you would also need to train the operators for texting, and establish a schedule so that qualified operators are available for answering texts 24/7. This sounds simple, but in most cases it actually isn’t.

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I would imagine choosing the right emoji would require some strict protocol.

Well, you would at least need to have a basic understanding what each emoji means, what possible connotations are, and when it may be inappropriate. That doesn’t come easy for some people. Texting is a somewhat different skill than operating a phone.

Well, don’t keep us in the dark… has America dialed the number yet?

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Is doesn’t sound simple but my understanding is that existing suicide hotlines already do this. That’s why I assumed that the main obstacle had to do with the 988 dispatch not the ability of the hotlines to handle texts. It could certainly be more complicated than my understanding.

http://www.thedirectory.org/bypref/988.htm

Locations for Telephone Prefix 988

This page shows the area codes and states / provinces / territories / countries for specific prefixes.

That page shows 200+ places that use that prefix. (207, if I counted correctly.)

FWIW I do have a landline. I only have to dial 7 digits within my area code. Minneapolis, MN.

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Entirely depends if the people are trained in texting already. If you would staff the 988 with people from existing hotlines then you only have to worry about infrastructure.

It’s not a new service. It is a phone alias for the existing suicide prevention lifeline. Which in turn doesn’t operate crisis centers directly but routes your call to a network of centers with an attempt to route you locally but also accounting for availability and hours. the suicide lifeline does support chat but it appears only online not via sms.

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