Video, SMS support coming to 911 service

FCC chairman hopes to get the functionality up and running sooner rather than later. But before Next Generation 9-1-1 can be implemented, it needs to get funded.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

The Federal Communications Commission is planning to rapidly roll out several new ways for people in the U.S. to call the emergency 911 line.

Speaking yesterday at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials annual meeting, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said that his organization has developed a "five-step action plan" to deploy Next Generation 9-1-1.

Next Generation 9-1-1 is the next phase of the emergency service. It's designed to offer users more ways to contact emergency officials, as well as improve the network to ensure it holds up for the new communication technologies.

According to Genachowski, a key component in Next Generation 9-1-1 is the rapid deployment of text messaging, photo, and video support. In addition, Genachowski said his organization plans on developing a platform to receive automatic location information whenever a person contacts the service.

"Almost everyone in or near an emergency situation now and in the future will have access to these new communications technologies," Genachowski said in his address at the conference. "These technologies, and the fact of their widespread use, have the potential to revolutionize emergency response and save lives. But the unfortunate truth is that the capability of our emergency response communications has not kept pace with what ordinary people now do every day with communications devices.

"You deserve better," he said.

Genachowski has remained committed to updating 911 emergency service since last year when he discussed a plan to "bring 911 into the Digital Age." He said at the time that his desire to support text messaging with the 911 service came about after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting when students tried to text police for help, but were unsuccessful.

However, before Next Generation 9-1-1 can be implemented, Genachowski acknowledged in his address yesterday that it needs to be funded. A key component in his action plan is the development of a "funding model" that will hopefully get Congress on board with the idea. According to that plan, both the FCC and Department of Homeland Security will "prepare a cost model" for Congress members to consider.