Talking tech since 2003

In 1968, the 911 system as we know it in the United States was launched in an effort to make it easier for emergencies to be reported and for police and fire services to be dispatched efficiently.  However, a lot has changed in the forty-two years that the 911 system has been alive, including how we contact emergency services.  Now, with the communications revolution happening before our eyes, SMS text messaging and mobile video communications services such as Facetime have suddenly become a de facto for personal communication.  And now, the United States Government is pondering the idea of bringing emergency communications “into the 21st century” and accepting SMS and video calls.

According to a Federal Communications Commission release today, more than 70% of calls to 911 dispatch centers are made from mobile phones.  With phones becoming more and more efficient and feature-packed each and every day, it makes sense that 911 dispatchers should be able to take advantage of mobile features in order to better assess the situation when someone calls in.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few great reasons how video communication would benefit the 911 system as we know it.  First off, when people call for emergency services, they sometimes have a tendency to over-react to the situation at hand – even if they are not intentionally doing so.  A visual communications aspect would eliminate these over-reactions and would allow 911 personnel to visually assess as situation and thus make better prioritizations when dispatching officers and first-responders.  Moreover, by taking advantage of a video or image, emergency personnel would be able to share a better (and often more accurate) description of a criminal to the responding authorities.  Better yet, a visual archive of an event would clear up a lot of confusion when the authorities did arrive on the scene, and potentially down the road in the justice system as well.

As far as the text-messaging aspect of a revamped emergency services system goes, I can easily see where SMS text messaging would be useful for more discreet communications with emergency services when audibly communicating simply was not an option.  In fact, this has already happened in a handful of cases where girls have been kidnapped (once in 2006 and again in 2008) and able to give loved ones their location vias text message.  While these communications weren’t direct with authorities, the examples illustrate the fact that modern-day communication can be of great aid in a life-or-death situation.

So when evaluating all of the benefits of text and video calls to emergency services, I think it’s a no-brainer that modern communications can be implemented in order to make our emergency services more efficient and easier for the community as a whole to take advantage of.

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