On the eve of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 – and in the wake of a number of recent global and regional tragedies – the U.S. is taking many steps to improve the security of those residing within its borders. One of the most important of these initiatives is the strengthening of our nation's emergency communication services through the widespread adoption of next-generation 911 solutions.
A major concern with traditional analog 911 services is that they aren't capable of receiving text messages. A recent Washington Post article details a number of harrowing incidents that could have been mitigated if emergency texting was available on a nationwide basis. These tragedies include an attack involving the "East Coast Rapist" and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, where witnesses and students sent emergency texts to local dispatchers who never received them.
Unfortunately, our nation's emergency communication systems have yet to catch up to the advances of today' mobile technologies. However, the Federal Communications Commission is quickly working on a fix.
In December, the FCC (News - Alert) laid out the National Broadband Plan – a wide scale effort to transition the current legacy system to a broadband-enabled, next-generation 911 system.
“The shift that we need to make from analog to digital 911 is by far the most important change in 911 since the invention of 911,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) noted earlier. “There’s a gap between what ordinary people do with technology and the capabilities of our emergency response network.”
Part of the comprehensive plan would involve harnessing "the life-saving potential of text messaging, email, video and photos from mobile and landline broadband services."
The FCC has recognized the importance of text messaging capabilities in emergency situations where phone calls could jeopardize the health of the dialer, according to a release. The organization has also noted that relevant videos and photos could help emergency personnel be better prepared to respond to certain situations.
Emergency text message systems are currently being tested in a variety of locations, including Black Hawk County, Iowa, where they are saving lives. Judy Flores, administrator of the county’s 911 system, told the Washington Post that a homeowner texted police when her ex-boyfriend violated a restraining order by breaking into her house. Police showed up immediately after receiving the text and made the arrest.
The FCC is currently seeking comment on the National Broadband Plan, including aspects related to emergency text messaging. Public comments and reply comments for the plan are due July 7, and Sept. 1, 2011, respectively. If things go as planned, E911 solutions with text receiving capabilities could be available to all residents in the near future.
Beecher Tuttle is a TMCnet contributor. He has extensive experience writing and editing for print publications and online news websites. He has specialized in a variety of industries, including health care technology, politics and education. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf