It’s late at night. You’re home alone, and hear someone forcing entry into your house. In fear for your life, you quickly hide in the shadows behind a piece of furniture, luckily grabbing your mobile phone in the process. You want to dial emergency services to summon help, but with the intruder there, standing right in front of your hidden niche, talking aloud to a 911 operator would only give away your presence and draw the intruder’s attention. If only you could silently text your cry for help!
Soon, you can. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced that it will begin accepting texted requests for assistance, starting as early as June, 2013.
This “NG911” (next generation of 911 emergency services) will begin rolling out to Americans over the major mobile phone carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. The new service is already established in some areas of the nation, with functionality expected to be fully available coast to coast by mid-2014.
Mobile phone texting for 911 is a program designed to supplement, not supplant, existing voice calls to emergency services. The FCC urges people to use the voice line whenever possible, as operators can often pick up additional cues about what’s happening by listening on the line for tell-tale sounds. Further, there is a factor of reassurance that’s present in a live phone call that can’t be matched through text messaging; sometimes, that person’s voice on the other end of the line is just what the caller needs to make it through an emergency.
Still, there are valid reasons for choosing to text help requests to 911. The FCC has long considered permitting texts to emergency services, and is still mulling over allowing photos, videos and other data to be transmitted via mobile phones. Imagine capturing a picture of an assailant, or taking a video of a victim in the moments just after a stroke. The information that professional emergency providers could gain from such data could make a difference in a quicker apprehension of a criminal or a more accurate diagnosis for a patient.
In situations of duress, panic or emotions can take over and make speaking simple sentences extremely difficult. In such cases, texting may be faster and easier, and result in more complete information for the emergency operator. And mobile phone texting would also be easier than using devices set up for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.
This NG911 may lead to a whole new line of texting vocabulary (imagine texting “V404”–vehicle missing–to alert police that your car’s been stolen). Knowing that there are additional opportunities for requesting emergency assistance can help people relax just a tiny bit during what is otherwise a stressful situation.
The author of this article M.S. Ross has so many old mobile phones building up in her kitchen drawer.