August 12, 2011

FCC Wants To Allow Text And Video For 911 Calls

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Wednesday a five-step plan to update the nation's aging 911 emergency system.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, speaking at the 2011 Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Philadelphia, said the agency was working with the public community, carriers, manufacturers and other parties to put forth a Next Generation 911 system (NG911).

NG911 has been designed to allow users to have more ways to contact emergency officials, as well as improve the network to ensure it holds up for new technologies. The plan will enable the transmission of text messages, voice calls, videos and photos, and also automatic location information. The FCC hopes the plan will allow emergency responders to respond to emergencies faster than before.

"These technologies, and the fact of their widespread use, have the potential to revolutionize emergency response and save lives. But the unfortunate truth is that the capability of our emergency response communications has not kept pace with what ordinary people now do every day with communications devices," said Genachowski.

People "deserve better," he said.

Genachowski has remained committed to updating the 911 system since last year when he discussed a plan to "bring 911 into the Digital Age." He said at the time that the desire to support text messaging with the 911 service came about after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting when students tried to text police for help, but were unsuccessful.

Being that texting has replaced talking among many teenagers, the plan seems like a step in the right direction.

"It's hard to imagine that airlines can send text messages if your flight is delayed, but you can't send a text message to 9-1-1 in an emergency," he added.

However, before NG911 can be implemented, Genachowski acknowledged that it needs to be funded. A major part of his plan is the development of a "funding model" that will hopefully get Congress on board with the idea. Under the plan, both the FCC and Dept of Homeland Security will "prepare a cost model" for Congress to consider.

NG911 will be charted by the following five-step plan, according to the FCC:

1. Develop location accuracy mechanisms for NG911

2. Enable consumers to send text, photos, and videos to public safety answering points (NPRM)

3. Facilitate the completion and implementation of NG911 technical standards

4. Develop an NG911 governance framework

5. Develop an NG911 funding model


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