Approximately 70% of all 911 calls in the US are now made from mobile phones and the US Federal Communications Commission wants to take advantage of the advanced capabilities of those devices for sending text messages, photos, and video as part of the emergency response system. That means going a step beyond just E911, which enables location-awareness for people calling 911 from a mobile phone.
The new systems is called Next Generation 911, or NG911, and the FCC Chief of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Jamie Barnett, stated on Tuesday that the FCC has kicked off a new project that will do a gap analysis of what needs to be done to transition the current 911 system from the old circuit-switched phone system to a new digital platform that can interact with SMS and multimedia messages from the public.
This will essentially require a conversion to Voice over IP (VoIP), which will not only accept the new types of data from the public but will also be able to handle and route calls dynamically in order to avoid the types of overload that currently happens to 911 lines when a major disaster occurs, such as a hurricane.
Monday's announcement is the FCC's first step toward implementing NG911 nationwide. Some areas have already taken the initiative to deploy NG911 on their own.
Barnett said, "This November, I had the chance to visit Arlington, Virginia's state of the art 911 center, which is at the forefront of the move toward NG911. With 70% of our nation's 911 calls originating from mobile phones, the evolution of our 911 system to one which not only accepts, but welcomes, text and multimedia messages is crucial. The advances in our NG911 system pave the way for first responders to attain maximum situational awareness of an emergency before stepping onto the scene. Additionally, it allows consumers, who often rely on text and multimedia messaging, to feel comfortable in the fact that the 911 system is responsive to their unique needs in the new media environment."
I think this is one of those rare areas where most citizens would agree that this is a worthy use of tax dollars, as long as it's handled within a reasonable budget.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.