Taking into account that 70 percent of calls to 911 are made through a mobile phone and that 72 percent of Americans text, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to revamp the national emergency hotline to process SMS pleas for help. FCC's Chairman Julius Genachowski is calling for a Next-Generation 9-1-1 service, which falls under the FCC-drafted National Broadband Plan, that would allow Americans to send texts, photos, and videos to 911 from their mobile phone.
Genachowski pointed to the tragic Virginia Tech campus shootings in 2007 as an example where the technological limitations of 911 were a serious obstacle. Some witnesses tried to text 911 during the emergency but the messages never went through.
According to the FCC, Americans place 650,000 calls per day (more than 237 million calls a year) to 911. Modernizing the hotline would allow them to text for help in situations when calling might jeopardize their safety. Furthermore, photos and videos taken with a mobile phone could provide first responders with additional information to better assess a reported situation.
Expanding 911's communications platform would require the cooperation of numerous parties: local, state, and federal partners, as well as public safety, lawmakers, communications, broadband service providers and equipment manufacturers. In December, the FCC will lead a "Next-Generation 9-1-1 proceeding" to gauge the public's opinion.
The US is already planning on sending text messages about local, state, or national emergencies. This new 911 proposal would make the country's emergency system a two-way street.
"The Next Generation 9-1-1 Whats Next Project is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Transportation and is being carried out by the Transportation Safety Advancement Group (TSAG)," according to 911.gov. "The project draws on the expertise of public safety experts to identify and prioritize digital data, potentially available to first responders via the Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) system, which could best improve their safety and performance."