Thursday, December 2, 2010

FCC Calls for 911 System that Accepts Texts,2817,2373241,00.asp

FCC Calls for 911 System that Accepts Texts
Sara Yin

Given that 70 percent of calls to 911 are made through a mobile phone, and 72 percent of Americans text, it is mind-boggling to realize that our national emergency hotline can't process SMS-based pleas for help.

This is why Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski called for a "Next-Generation 9-1-1" service that would allow Americans send mobile texts, videos, and photos to 911.

"The Virginia Tech campus shootings in 2007 are a tragic, real-life reminder of the technological limitations that 9-1-1 is now saddled with," Genachowsk said in a speech at the Arlington County Emergency Center this afternoon. "Some students and witnesses tried to text 9-1-1 during that emergency and as we know, those messages never went through and were never received by local 9-1-1 dispatchers."

Modernizing the hotline would allow Americans to text for help in situations when a call might jeopardize their safety. Furthermore, accepting mobile videos and photos could provide first responders with on-the-ground information to assess a situation in real time, the FCC said in a statement.

"Many 911 call centers don't even have broadband, and some are in communities where broadband isn't even available," Genachowski admitted. "That is unacceptable."

As Iowa probably discovered in 2009, expanding 911's communications platform would require the cooperation of numerous parties: federal, state and local partners, public safety, lawmakers, communications and broadband service providers and equipment manufacturers.

The Next-Generation 9-1-1 plan falls under the FCC-drafted National Broadband Plan. Funded by stimulus money, the plan aims to harness broadband to improve public safety, specifically through the creation of an interoperable public safety wireless broadband communication network by 2020.

In December, the FCC will lead a "Next-Generation 9-1-1 proceeding," to gauge the public's opinion.

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