911 system
The 911 system has been around for 40 years and is now getting an upgrade. Image: Flickr / blackwind / CC-BY-SA

In November 2010, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans for Next Generation 911. NG911 was intended to update the 40-year-old 911 system. Now, the FCC has released a five-step plan for implementing NG911.

What Next Generation 911 means

Next Generation 911 is a system that uses more forms of modern telecommunications technology. This includes GPS locations, internet protocol, text messaging, even picture and video messaging. The idea is that text messaging and picture messaging are more natural and, in some situations, an easier way to contact emergency services than making a phone call.

The five steps of the NG911 plan

After several months of planning, the Federal Communications Commission released its five-step plan for implementing the NG911 system. The five steps are:

  1. Location Accuracy: The FCC is investigating ways to utilize a mobile phone’s GPS system as a way to locate individuals requesting assistance.
  2. Utilizing messaging: The FCC would like the NG911 system to be able to receive text, video, and photo messages from cell phones.
  3. Technical Standards: The FCC will be creating standards for messaging and cell phones to allow the 911 system and phones to work together seamlessly, even if a phone has been shut off by the service provider.
  4. Building a governing team: The FCC would like to build a team of federal agencies, state 911 authorities and the FCC in order to govern the new NG911 system.
  5. Funding: The 911 system needs funding, and the FCC needs to develop a system to fund the upgrade to NG911.

How the current 911 system works

The current 911 system is public, local and independently operated. Most 911 systems are run by counties, though some are operated by cities or municipalities. A 911 surcharge is most often added to phone bills, both cell and land line, in order to pay for the system. Telephone companies often work closely with the operator of the 911 system to ensure that as much information as possible is passed along with each 911 call. The federal NG911 system will maintain this decentralized ownership but will attempt to update the systems as quickly as possible to meet new standards.

Sources

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/mobile/08/11/text.911.mashable/index.html?npt=NP1
Transition.FCC.Gov: http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2011/db0810/DOC-309005A1.pdf
Dispatch Magazine On-Line: http://editor5.securesites.net/911/

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