In danger? You can now TEXT that you need help to 911

SRSLY in danger? Just text a message to 911.

The 911 emergency response system was designed in 1968, well before the advent of text messages
and cell phones. Citing the fact that 70 percent of 911 calls come from mobile phones, the FCC announced Monday that it is moving forward with plans to let people text message the details of an emergency situation to dispatchers. [via]

Plans to modernize the 911 service has been under way for years; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a similar effort to allow emergency centers to receive digital photos and videos back in 2007. But Monday, in a ceremony at the Arlington County Emergency Center in Virginia, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced the first steps to make it into a nationwide reality.
“911 is an indispensable, live-saving tool,” Genachowski said. "But today’s 911 system doesn’t support the communication tools of tomorrow. Even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most 911 callers, and we primarily use our phones to text, right now, you can’t text 911.

"I am pleased to announce that we will initiate a Next-Generation 911 proceeding next month -- taking up an item during the Commission’s December meeting. It is an important first step," he said.

The Next-Generation 911 service will allow people in situations where they are unable to speak to communicate with emergency dispatchers -- to send a photo of a car leaving the scene of an armed robbery, to let a deaf person communicate with a call center, or even to allow environmental or chemical sensors or security cameras to transmit alerts.

David Fiske, the director of the FCC's office of media relations, told that this represents a massive advance for many call centers, a number of which don't even have broadband connections, he noted.

Tech news site Wired points out that it’s not clear yet where the money will come from for the upgrades, whether they will be federal requirements states and cities must carry out or if they will simply be suggestions.

911, which was established as the national emergency number in 1968, has been a lifeline to those in distress. Americans place more than 237 million 911 calls every year -- 650,000 per day. The changes will be welcome, Genachowski noted, highlighting the failure of 911 to save the lives of students during the 2007 shooting at the Virginia Tech campus.

"Some students and witnesses tried to text 911 during that emergency -- and, as we know, those messages never went through and were never received by local 911 dispatchers," Genachowski said.

"It’s time to bring 911 into the digital age," he said.

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