The US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has unveiled a plan to upgrade the communications technology that runs the country’s 911 emergency response service.
The move towards IP-based communications will see the public being offered a far broader range of methods for contacting the service – including text messaging.
Next Generation 911 (NG911), the official name of the project, is a five-point plan under which the public will be able to send texts, photos and videos to public safety answering points. The new system will also improve the provision of automatic location information to help pinpoint where callers are in the event of an emergency.
The aims of the project are to allow emergency service teams to respond more quickly to incidents, better assess emergencies by being able to see videos and photos from the scene before they even arrive, and provide citizens with a greater range of options for contacting 911.
Keeping Pace with Innovation
Genachowski has made no secret that he has long held the aim of making it possible for the public to contact emergency officials by text message. He started work on the plan in 2010, prompted by the fact that students were unable to text 911 during the Virginia Tech campus shootings in 2007.
“The unfortunate truth is that the capability of our emergency response communications has not kept pace with commercial innovation,” said Genachowski. “[It] has not kept pace with what ordinary people now do every day with communications devices.”
Figures released by the National Emergency Number Association estimate that 20% of all US households now use a cell phone as their sole or primary phone. Around one third of all 911 calls are currently made from cell phones.
Projects are already underway on a scattered basis around the country to enable citizens to contact the emergency services using their cell phones. The FCC intends to encourage the process by examining its technical feasibility and overseeing the putting in place of the required technical standards.
An FCC official said that the new services could be available across the United States within the next five to ten years, so long as the necessary funding is provided for equipment upgrades.
Key Statistics – 911 Emergency Services In the US (National Emergency Number Association)
- Of the estimated 240 million calls made each year to 911 emergency services in the United States, around one third are from cell phones, according to the FCC.
- In some communities, this figure rises to more than half of all 911 calls.
- 99% of the US population is covered by the 911 service, and 96% of the country’s counties/parishes.
- It is estimated that nearly 20% of all US households now use their cell phone as their sole or main phone, having either given up their landline or choosing not to use it.