updated 11:15 pm EST, Mon November 22, 2010
FCC proposes adding live streams, SMS to 911
The FCC today proposed major changes to 911 that would bring smartphones and other devices into the mix. Officials suggested allowing text messaging but also live video streaming, automatic alarm or medical sensors and other data services that have previously been off-limits. Using these could save lives, the agency said, as incidents like the Virginia Tech shootings showed that many younger witnesses have tried to use messaging first and weren't stopping to consider voice.
"During the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting, students and witnesses desperately tried to send texts to 9-1-1 that local dispatchers never received," the FCC said. "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."
Adding the extra components could also improve the likelihood of catching an emergency where a phone call could either take too much time or could put the caller in danger, such as in a hostage situation. Most modern smartphone platforms, including Android and the iPhone, have apps like Qik or Ustream that can share in real time, and some have dual cameras that can be used to show both the participant and the scene ahead, both of which could be critical in an emergency call.
The FCC hasn't said how many resources it would be willing to devote to the upgrades and how soon it could expect the features to arrive. However, it has had moderate success upgrading 911 in the past decade and added support for GPS-aware phones early on, in 2001, and local call rerouting for landline VoIP a few years later. [via Wired]