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FCC Hopes To Modernize 911 Calling

November 23, 2010

The FCC is looking into allowing citizens to report crimes through text messages and even stream video from their mobile phones to emergency centers through the 911 system.

The 911 number handles over 230 million calls a year, 70 percent of which now come from mobile phones.  It was established as a national standard in 1968.

In 2001, the FCC started to require phone makers to allow 911 to identify the location of callers either through GPS or cell-tower data. 

Some Internet telephony companies were also required to implement 911 calling that would route emergency calls to the appropriate local center. 

However, the 911 system still cannot handle text messages, multimedia messages or streaming video, all of which could be very helpful to first responders.

A system that could handle those messages would also allow people to report crimes without being overheard, which would be effective in situations like a robbery or kidnapping.

The FCC pointed to the now-infamous shooting rampage at Virginia Tech as an example of how a more modern system could be useful. 

“The technological limitations of 9-1-1 can have tragic, real-world consequences,” the release said. “During the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting, students and witnesses desperately tried to send texts to 9-1-1 that local dispatchers never received. If these messages had gone through, first responders may have arrived on the scene faster with firsthand intelligence about the life-threatening situation that was unfolding.”

The FCC plans to allow automated pinging of 911 by sensors, including chemical detection sensors, alarm systems, medical devices and systems like On-Star in automobiles.

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