Text-To-911 Moving Forward
December 7, 2012

Wireless Carriers, FCC Gain Ground On Text-To-911 Service

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

As the East coast was battered by Superstorm Sandy during late October and early November, many in the area used their cell phones to keep in touch with one another.

Although this is common, there were some uncommon methods used to reach emergency services. With the voice lines stretched thin, some were able to get the help they needed by Tweeting to their local emergency officials.

This is just one example of the importance of being able to reach emergency officials by any means necessary and keeping these officials in lockstep with the march of technology.

Last year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced a 5-year plan to update an aging 911 system. With this updated system, citizens in need would be able to send in photos, videos and even text messages to 911 emergency officials.

Today, Genachowski has issued an update on this plan, saying America´s largest carriers are now ready for widespread roll-outs as early as 2013.

This Text-to-911 service will also feature a bounce-back service alerting those when this SMS feature is not available in their area. Users will also be told to call 911 if they are able. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon are all set to begin rolling out portions of this service as early as June 2013 and have committed to a full-scale rollout by May 2014.

“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century — and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal,” wrote Genachowski yesterday in a statement.

“I am pleased that the nation´s four largest wireless carriers and leading public safety organizations have responded with today´s commitment, which will save lives starting in 2013.”

“This is good progress, but our work is not done. Next week the FCC will consider further actions to advance text-to-911 for all consumers. We will also take additional steps in this area next year, including closely monitoring carriers´ compliance with the commitments they have made today and addressing other aspects of Next Generation 911 such as enabling transmission of photos and videos to 9-1-1 centers.”

As it stands, the 911 system in America faces a few issues. When 911 is called from a landline, emergency responders are able to look up the exact location of the call using the address associated to the number.

When 911 is dialed from a cell phone, however, responders don´t have an accurate way to pinpoint the location. In some cases, a 911 call from a cell phone will dispatch to a call center in a region that may not be closest to where the call is actually being placed. With the new system, call centers will be able to use GPS data to find exactly where the emergency has occurred.

Text messages have been another sticking point in Genachowski´s new plan. While the carriers have committed to working together to send these messages, and alert the person when the text didn´t go through, 911 centers haven´t yet been set up to receive and respond to these texts. Popular messaging services such as WhatsApp and Pinger are also working with the FCC to allow these 911 texts.

Depending on the emergency, texting 911 could be a life-saving feature or a life-endangering one. Although Genachowski is proud to be moving forward on this plan, the FCC is still stressing the importance of calling the service and making these calls more reliable, ensuring accurate and expedient responses.