New Tech Allows Texting for 911 Emergency

Dennis Faas's picture

The FCC is working on ways to modernize 911 call centers across North America. If current plans come to fruition, it would enable emergency response teams to accept text messages, picture messages, streaming video and other emergent technologies.

The update, called Next Gen 911, marks the first change made to the 911 system in close to a decade. The most recent revamping occurred back in 2001, when the FCC required cellular carriers to offer the emergency service along with the GPS data of the caller (within 50 to 300 meters in proximity). (Source:

Phone Calls Are Not Always an Option

At first glance it would appear as if the proposed changes are insignificant. Why would people take the time to text in the midst of an emergency, when a standard call would be much more efficient?

In some emergency situations, phone calls are not an option. A victim of a kidnapping or home invasion, for example, would not be able to call 911 without having their voice give away their intentions or whereabouts.

Also, providing photographic or video messages could help law enforcement officials determine the severity (and in some cases, the legitimacy) of an emergency situation, while documenting real-time evidence to be used in a court of law.

Consider the Virginia Tech shootings back in 2007. Many students attempted to send text messages to 911 officials in the midst of the shootings. It was later learned that the emergency response centers were unable to process SMS messages.

As the FCC lamented in a press release, "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." (Source:

Sensor-Based Dialing

Other updates include the automated dialing of 911 by sensors, including chemical detection sensors, alarm systems, medical devices and other automatic response systems similar to those used by On-Star (in relation to their vehicles).

While there is no official word on when Next Gen 911 is set to be released, given the severity of the situations reliant on the update, the time it takes to introduce the system could very well be a matter of life and death.

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