Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Updating 9-1-1 Call Centers

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with emergency officials and responders to talk about what the FCC needs to do to modernize the 9-1-1 emergency system. He told the group “9-1-1 is an indispensible, life-saving tool, but today’s system just doesn’t support the communication tools of tomorrow.”

He announced on November 23rd that FCC will launch an effort to get public input as was requested in the National Broadband Plan on transitioning the current 9-1-1 system to a broadband-enabled next generation system. According to the Chairman, discussions will take place on ways to attract public input at the Commission’s December meeting. This action builds on the FCC’s recent order to beef up 9-1-1 location accuracy requirements so that first responders can quickly find information from people on their mobile phones.

The Chairman explained, “The current 9-1-1 system is efficient and reliable and handles more than 650,000 calls a day. About 450,000 of these calls are made from mobile phones. With today’s advances in commercial mobile broadband technologies, consumers are using their phones less to make calls but using them even more for texting and sending photos.”

The problem is that even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most emergency calls and although people have the capability to use their mobile phones to text, 9-1-1, calls can’t be texted since many 9-1-1 call centers don’t have broadband and some centers are located in communities where broadband isn’t even available.

As Chairman Genachowski, pointed out, when witnesses tried to text 9-1-1 during the Virginia Tech campus shootings in 2007, the messages never went through and were never received by local 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Broadband-enabled next generation 9-1-1 will revolutionize emergency response not only by texting but the system will also enable videos and photos to be sent. This will not only help people with disabilities to communicate with emergency dispatchers but photos and videos will be able to be transmitted while crimes are ongoing along with photos from highway and security cameras.

Also, new devices on the horizon will be able to provide many more details and include information from environmental sensors that are capable of detecting chemicals, information from alarm systems, personal medical devices, and from consumer electronics in cars.

However, Genachowski said, “Although the need for action is clear, modernizing 9-1-1 raises complex challenges that will take not only time but also need significant coordination. We need to help federal, state and local partners, public safety officials, lawmakers, communications and broadband service providers, and equipment manufacturers develop a national framework for next generation 9-1-1 services across the nation.