911 to Accept Multimedia Messages

The United States’ emergency response number, 911, has remained very much unchanged for many years. Children are taught from a young age to dial the number in case of any major emergency and verbally provide critical information that will help emergency response personnel navigate to the scene and address the problem. Now, the age-old system is being prepared for a technological update.

With the proliferation of multimedia messaging technology in phone networks during recent years, 911’s system seems archaic and outdated. The updated system will be known as NG911, or “Next Generation” 911. This system will allow callers to provide emergency personnel with critical information using a variety of methods, including text, video, and picture messaging.

The project was announced by Julius Genachowski, chairman of the FCC. The recent massacre at Virginia Tech highlighted the need for the new capability. During that incident, students in hiding were unable to contact 911 immediately because their voices would give away their presence to the shooter. If they had been able to text information about the emergency in silence to the police, a response could have been made much more quickly and some of the deaths could have been prevented.

The ability of the new system to receive and process photo and video data can also aid emergency personnel in a number of ways. Many 911 callers can now be located by GPS when they fail to provide their location verbally, but GPS systems do not work in all cases, such as when a victim is indoors. The new ability of dispatchers to receive pictures and videos can allow them to locate victims by recognizing important landmarks and well known public places. The new system will also give victims a reason to visually record emergencies, which will increase the availability of video and picture evidence of crimes for use in courtrooms during trials.

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