US to modernize 911 emergency service

November 23, 2010

During the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, desperate students attempted to text the 911 emergency service.

The messages never arrived. The 911 system was unable to handle texts.

The US cited the Virginia Tech tragedy as it announced Tuesday it was planning to modernize the emergency communications system to include text, phone and video messages.

"911 is an indispensible, live-saving tool," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech to public safety officials in Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington.

"But today's 911 system doesn't support the communication tools of tomorrow," Genachowski said.

"Even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most 911 callers, and we primarily use our phones to text, right now, you can't text 911," he said.

"If you find yourself in an emergency situation and want to send a text for help, you can pretty much text anyone except a 911 call center," he said.

"It's time to bring 911 into the digital age."

According to the FCC, Americans place more than 237 million calls to the 911 emergency number every year, or 650,000 per day.

It said that 70 percent of 911 calls come from mobile phones, many of which are able to send text messages, pictures and videos.

"These new technologies have the potential to revolutionize by providing public safety officials with critical real-time, on-the-ground information," the FCC said.

The FCC said if the text messages sent by students at Virginia Tech had gone through, " may have arrived on the scene faster with firsthand intelligence about the life-threatening situation that was unfolding."

Virginia Tech was the scene of the worst school shooting in US history when Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old student, shot 32 classmates and teachers to death before killing himself.

Explore further: U.S. telecoms brace for Wilma's arrival

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The ethics of robot love

November 25, 2015

There was to have been a conference in Malaysia last week called Love and Sex with Robots but it was cancelled. Malaysian police branded it "illegal" and "ridiculous". "There is nothing scientific about sex with robots," ...

Glider pilots aim for the stratosphere

November 20, 2015

Talk about serendipity. Einar Enevoldson was strolling past a scientist's office in 1991 when he noticed a freshly printed image tacked to the wall. He was thunderstruck; it showed faint particles in the sky that proved something ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 24, 2010
Yea a text feature is exactly what 911 needs. I can just see it now.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.