FCC's move to modernize 911 with texting, video, begins December

At an event in Arlington, Virginia Tuesday morning, the Federal Communications Commission and Arlington County public safety officials outlined upcoming plans for "Next Generation 911," an update to the United States' 42-year-old national emergency hotline that brings it into the broadband age.

"The current 9-1-1 system is efficient and reliable -- handling more than 650,000 calls a day," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said this morning. "Well, 450,000 of those calls are made from mobile phones...Even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most 911 callers, and we primarily use our phones to text, right now, you can't text 911. Let me reiterate that point. If you find yourself in an emergency situation and want to send a text for help, you can pretty much text anyone except a 911 call center."

So improvements to the 911 communications system have been included in the Public Safety chapter of the FCC's National Broadband Plan. Here, the commission outlines the features and purposes of Next-Generation 911 (NG911) which were discussed today.

These will include not only the ability for callers to text 911, but also to send mobile video and photos to first responders. A major aspect of this emergency response system will not even necessarily involve a concerted effort from individuals, and will cover automatic alerting from environmental sensors, highway cameras, security cameras, alarms, personal medical devices, telematics, and consumer electronic devices in automobiles.

Chairman Genachowski announced today that the initial proceedings for NG911 will begin in December at the Commission's next meeting.

"While the need for action is clear, modernizing 911 raises complex challenges that will take not only time, but also significant coordination. We need to help of our federal, state and local partners, public safety, lawmakers, communications and broadband service providers, and equipment manufacturers to develop a national framework for Next-Generation 911 services across the nation."

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