FCC Considers Overhauling 911 System to Receive Text Messages

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The majority of calls to 9-1-1 -- about 70 percent of them, according to Wired's Ryan Singel -- come from mobile phones. For teenagers, who often use more text messages than talking minutes, sending an SMS to the emergency service might make more sense. Several outlets are reporting that the FCC is considering making a major overhaul to the service that would allow dispatchers to receive text messages, making it not only more teenager-friendly, but also making it a smart option for certain situations where the informant might not want to be heard.

But the 911 system still can't handle text messages, multimedia messages or streaming video, all of which could be very helpful to first responders. A system that could handle those messages would also allow people to report crimes without being overheard, which could be useful in situations ranging from kidnapping to seeing someone being robbed on the street.

In a press release announcing Tuesday's changes, the FCC pointed to the now-infamous shooting rampage at Virginia Tech as an example of how a more modern system could be useful.

"The technological limitations of 9-1-1 can have tragic, real-world consequences," the release said. "During the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting, students and witnesses desperately tried to send texts to 9-1-1 that local dispatchers never received. If these messages had gone through, first responders may have arrived on the scene faster with firsthand intelligence about the life-threatening situation that was unfolding."

Read the full story at Wired.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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