updated 07:55 pm EDT, Wed August 10, 2011
FCC outlines next-generation 911 process
The FCC on Wednesday gave a five-step plan (PDF) that it said would bring about its hinted at media-aware 911 services to the US. The strategy will see it make a proposal gauging the technical needs for sending text messages, photos, and videos to 911. , including the bandwidth. Another step would accordingly see it help set standards for the future 911 service to make sure it behaved similarly across devices and carriers.
Further steps would help get an accurate location for a 911 call, where the precision and speed of a position fix are much more important. FCC officials also hoped for a common governing framework to get consistent behavior from state to state, as well as a funding model that would make sure it could keep running.
The current plan will be expanded in greater detail with proposed rulemaking at an open FCC meeting in September.
Chairman Julius Genachowski has been calling out for improvements to 911 since December, arguing that the voice-only format known today is outdated. Text, photo, and video can both help more accurately describe an emergency but potentially save lives both through expectations and through the discreteness it gives. The service could give photos of a thief or let a hostage get out information without tipping off the hostage taker.
When originally expressing his hopes, Genachowski pointed to the example of the Virginia Tech shootings. A large number of students, being used to texting their friends, sent SMS to 911 that went unread and might have helped police respond faster.