Public safety answering points, or PSAPs, face many challenges when they receive emergency calls. Life-threatening information has to be passed on to emergency responders as soon as possible because time is critical in most situations. While mobile technology provides many ways to communicate with each other, during a 911 call locating the caller accurately can be difficult. The introduction of NG911, or Next Generation 911, provides multiple ways in which a caller can relay their emergency, including real-time text, images, video and other data. Four major mobile phone service providers have agreed to implement this system as part of their service to help customers and emergency service operators.
AT&T, Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile will start providing 911 texting services, with wider service areas by 2013 and nationwide availability by May, 2014.
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The upgrade is a complete overhaul of the entire emergency responding system. It will be based on an IP architecture instead of the circuit-switched system being used. This will allow different types of data to be transmitted to emergency centers giving first responders the ability to prepare and respond accordingly to the emergency.
Until the service is available nationwide, carriers will put an automatic bounce back text message by June 30, 2013. This feature will inform the caller that text-to-911 is not available in their location and they will have to make a voice call.
The ability to use 911 texting is especially beneficial for people who have speech and hearing disabilities. Generally they have to use TTYs or TDDs telecommunications devices. While the machines work well with land line and mobile phones, the response time is not as fast as a voice call. Texting will allow them to relay their emergency clearly so they can get the help they need as soon as possible.
Texting an emergency can come in handy in many situations where a voice call is not possible or it could jeopardize the safety of the caller. The additional features of the NG911 service will give police officers video and audio evidence when a crime has taken place instantly.
"Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.
Edited by Brooke Neuman