The FCC Aims to Help the Texting Generation Reach 911

The FCC Aims to Help the Texting Generation Reach 911

Voice usage on mobile phones is going down, as more people migrate to texting, emailing, and social networking apps on their smartphones. It's particularly evident among younger people, and the FCC isn't blind to it: the FCC is reportedly looking into the possibility of allowing the public to send SMS messages and even stream video from their devices to emergency centers.

The FCC said the following in a press release:
“The technological limitations of 9-1-1 can have tragic, real-world consequences. 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.”
It is interesting to note that part of the driver behind this is that some don't realize that you can't currently text 911.

Seventy percent of 911's estimated 230 million calls each year come from mobile phones, but it is only able to support voice calls. The last big overhaul of 911 was in 2001. At that time, mobile operators were required to allow 911 to identify the location of callers either through GPS or cell phone tower data.

This move has been under consideration for a while. Not all are in favor of it. In October, industry group 4G Americas wrote a white paper about the limitations of SMS as a 911 tool. Chris Pearson, president of 4G Americas said:
“While we understand the desire to use SMS to contact 911, SMS has significant limitations and shortcomings that do not make SMS suitable for emergency communications, especially under life-threatening conditions. Today, voice 911 communication is the best and most reliable method of reporting an emergency and summoning help quickly. The industry is working on developing a reliable, non-voice solution to contact emergency services that is not based on SMS.”
Despite this, the fact that many are text-centric, not voice-centric, when it comes to their mobile devices will spur this initiative on. As noted, earlier, the fact that many among younger people apparently don't realize 911 can't receive texts is on reason this project should probably be undertaken.
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