The story starts out simply enough. After 42 years of acceptable service, emergency services provided by 911 are going to be modified so as to take note of the fact that most 911 calls these days are done from a cell phone. Though not specifically mentioned, I’m thinking scenes of automobile accidents are the bulk of these calls.
Alright, that sounds good, but then the director of the FCC, the same one that has said “Trust me!” for the eventual implementation of net neutrality, is saying that his department is going to oversee the update of 911, and that what we need most is the ability to text when an emergency occurs.
Since I am not of the “two wild thumbs on a miniature keyboard” generation, I’ll withhold comment on their wishes, but as someone who is not at all comfortable with the idea of texting in an emergency, I’ll say it is a good idea for those unable to speak, but otherwise, not really a breakthrough. For the unable to speak, and hear, it will be very good to implement. But how much of the total of 650 thousand 911 calls handled per year would really be affected by that?
As someone that has worked in the non-emergency medical transport field, and has seen what happens when an emergency condition arises, I’m not certain that anything is to be gained by anyone not absolutely ingrained with texting on the device at hand. (When I say device at hand, I note my own inability to do anything quickly on a miniature keyboard with any degree of accuracy that is not the one I am used to working with.) I envision in most cases the 911 operator only being able to get the GPS information from the phone, and that there is a need for help.
But there is another thing about the announcement.
These are only the initial proceedings which are soon to begin. Once again we have a build up, but again, as with the net neutrality situation, no resolution, or hope of a meaningful one in any defined period of time.
At an event in Arlington, Virginia Tuesday morning, the Federal Communications Commission and Arlington County public safety officials outlined upcoming plans for “Next Generation 911,” an update to the United States’ 42-year-old national emergency hotline that brings it into the broadband age.
“The current 9-1-1 system is efficient and reliable — handling more than 650,000 calls a day,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said this morning. “Well, 450,000 of those calls are made from mobile phones…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. Let me reiterate that point. 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.”
Texting is so popular today because it puts a layer of protection between the sender and receiver. The receiving end can always pretend the message was not received, or wait until later for the reply to be sent. It allows nonverbal cues to be eliminated, which is not always good – but for experienced texters, it probably is used to their advantage.
But the point I make is that the level of protection is hardly what is needed for a life and death emergency communication. As I said above, if it is the only method available, then it is great, but otherwise we convey much by voice other than the simple meaning given by the syllables of the words.
So improvements to the 911 communications system have been included in the Public Safety chapter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan. Here, the commission outlines the features and purposes of Next-Generation 911 (NG911) which were discussed today.
These will include not only the ability for callers to text 911, but also to send mobile video and photos to first responders. A major aspect of this emergency response system will not even necessarily involve a concerted effort from individuals, and will cover automatic alerting from environmental sensors, highway cameras, security cameras, alarms, personal medical devices, telematics, and consumer electronic devices in automobiles.
This is the important part of the upgrade – this is very good and yet, I can see there being those who will complain, citing privacy concerns. ( I refer to the mention of security cameras and highway cameras.)
Chairman Genachowski announced today that the initial proceedings for NG911 will begin in December at the Commission’s next meeting.
“While the need for action is clear, modernizing 911 raises complex challenges that will take not only time, but also significant coordination. We need to help of our federal, state and local partners, public safety, lawmakers, communications and broadband service providers, and equipment manufacturers to develop a national framework for Next-Generation 911 services across the nation.”
Why does this sound like Washington-speak for “something that will be implemented long after my term as FCC Chairman, and after I can be blamed for inaction”?
Experience is a terrible thing, it can be the best teacher, but that tutelage is a harsh one, allowing the sight of much disappointment. Experience is the beginning of cynicism.