FTC wants 911 dispatchers to accept texts, streaming cell phone video

Citing scads of text messages sent by panicked students and staff to emergency services during the Virginia Tech massacre, the FCC said they would like begin equipping 911 dispatchers with the ability to receive reports through text messages or even streaming video.

The functionality would come in handy in situations where background noise makes accurate relaying of information via phone difficult, or even when the victim of a crime in progress is unable to speak or doesn’t want to alert a criminal to the presence of a cell or smartphone. The FCC said the enhanced capabilities could only assist in gathering information about emergencies in progress:

“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.”

Wired points out that the FCC hasn’t gone so far as to say whether the hopefully eventual upgrades will be a requirement for local dispatches or just a suggestion, or whether the upgrades will be a federal initiative or one that is implemented differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. 70% of all calls to emergency services now originate from cellular phones.