The FCC is aiming to update the emergency response system in the United States to accept text messages, images and streaming video.
In the United States, when there is an emergency, you dial 911 on any phone in order to be connected to someone who can help you. The last major overhaul that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made to the emergency response system came in 2001 when cell phone carriers were required to relay a caller’s position using GPS or cell tower location. Now, the FCC thinks it’s time to further modernize the system by allowing people to text their emergencies to the 911 emergency center. Not only will texting allow you to communicate a problem quickly and easily, as well as surreptitiously if an attacker can hear but not see you, but the new measures will also allow you to send pictures and video.
“The technological limitations of 9-1-1 can have tragic, real-world consequences,” FCC’s press 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.”
I’m not sure that calling out the Virginia Tech shooting was the most politically correct way to communicate the need for these measures, but the point is well taken. We live in a world where technology allows free distribution of images and video, it’s high time that this ability was used to save lives.
It’s possible that this is the next step in standardizing how police and other emergency agencies deal with problems across the country. You may not know this, but the way that calls (and soon texts) are handled is usually mandated by the individual jurisdiction that you happen to be calling from. Amazingly, the police department from one county does not always adequately share information or practices with their neighbors.
Perhaps in addition to the FCC instituting texts and media to be sent to 911, the agency can also look towards overseeing the standardization of what is often the first line of contact in any emergency.