Next Generation 911 brings needed update to 911 system

Stock photo close-up of fingers texting with a mobile device.

Next Generation 911 will enable people to send 911 emergency texts. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Alton/Wikipedia)

According to the Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract of the United States, texting is a more popular means of communication than telephone calling by a wide margin. The popularity of texting over voice, while considered impersonal by some, has forced business and government to keep pace. CNN reports that soon, people will be able to send emergency texts to 911, thanks to a program the Federal Communications Commission is calling “Next Generation 911.”

Next Generation 911 a bit behind schedule

Texting is not a new invention, which makes one wonder why it has taken so long for the government to institute the technology for such an obvious application as Next Generation 911. Imagine being in your bed with your spouse in the middle of the night. You hear a noise downstairs; someone has broken into your home. You could rush downstairs with a baseball bat or 12 gauge and take your chances – which law enforcement never advises – but you should think of your family. If you need to contact 911, being able to do so silently via texting versus calling so that the intruder can hear you and pinpoint your location is a safer means of alerting the authorities.

Bringing the 911 system ‘into the 21st century’

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski points out that the pre-Next Generation 911 system was instituted in 1968, long before mobile texting existed. Thus, it is not designed to support the more modern technology of texting. With the new system, people will be able to send SMS messages including photo and video to 911 operators. Because 70 percent of 911 calls reportedly come from mobile phones to begin with, Next Generation 911 is a natural fit. Genachowski expects to receive public input on how best to institute Next Generation 911 beginning in December.

Next Generation 911 isn’t just about mobile phones

CNN reports that the FCC would also like medical devices, automotive electronics and security cameras to be able to feed 911 operators and law enforcement live data as well. In order to make this happen under the Next Generation 911 plan, broadband access should ideally be extended to all areas of the country. The United States currently ranks 23rd among the top 57 countries in terms of broadband development, so clearly more must be done to prepare.


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