New 911 may allow text and video 'calls'

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

NEW YORK ( -- The U.S. government is trying to bring the 911 emergency service "into the 21st century" by looking into allowing text, photo and video reports from mobile phones.

The Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday that 70% of 911 calls come from mobile phones. It also said some situations -- such as a home intruder -- don't allow the victim to make a voice call safely.

"Today's 911 system [launched in 1968] doesn't support the communication tools of tomorrow," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "We primarily use our phones to text, [but] right now, you can't text 911. It's time [for] the digital age."

The proposed "Next Generation 911" would allow emergency call centers to receive text messages and use mobile photo or video for information about the situation in progress.

The FCC also wants to introduce automatic reports coming from medical devices, car electronics, security cameras and more.

The commission admitted that today's 911 call centers are not well equipped technologically, with some even lacking access to broadband. It also said 911 texting would have been valuable during the shooting at the Virginia Tech campus in 2007.

"Students and witnesses desperately tried to send texts to 911 that dispatchers never received," the FCC said. "If these messages had gone through, first responders may have arrived on the scene faster with first-hand intelligence."

Genachowski, the FCC chairman, said he will launch a program in Decemeber to get public input on the changes to 911 services. To top of page

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