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FCC To Allow Texting To 911 321

Posted by kdawson
from the omg-srsly dept.
tekgoblin writes "The FCC is looking into allowing people to report incidents to 911 via SMS from their mobile phones. They are also considering mobile video to show the 911 service what is going on. The current 911 system handles around 230 million calls per year with most of the calls being from mobile phones. One situation influenced this move to allow texting to 911 was the Virginia Tech shooting. '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.'"
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FCC To Allow Texting To 911

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  • What the hell (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @09:58AM (#34316876) Homepage

    Without interacting with the dispatcher, you can't be sure that you've provided the necessary info. Talking is faster than typing, even for a T9 wizard. Is there any reason why you should text a 911 responder instead of just calling them?

    • Re:What the hell (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zironic (1112127) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:02AM (#34316916)

      Texting is a lot more silent if a criminal is nearby and might hear you, also a lot of people are idiots.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Lumpy (12016)

        also a lot of people are idiots.

        You win the prize! Don Pardo; tell him what he won!

    • Re:What the hell (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrgnDancer (137700) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:02AM (#34316920) Homepage

      For precisely the reason in the summary. If you're inside on a bank robbery or other hostage type situation you can send a text in near complete silence. Talking to a dispatcher will make noise and potentially give away your position (and the fact that you're in contact with the outside). It's a limited use case, but happens often enough to justify the relatively small expense I would think.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        That is retarded.

        Dial 911, simply do not SAY anything but do not hang up. cops will be on the way.

        What moron thinks the 911 dispatcher will go "hello? hello? Nobody there, I'll hang up and ignore it....."

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          Apparently there's far too many of those calls, and most of them are false alarms for that to be any use. Or at least that is the case in England where you call emergency services using the English number 999 or the EU number 112.

          • by Culture20 (968837)
            Heh. 999? It's just asking for butt dialing.
            • by bsDaemon (87307) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:03AM (#34317650)

              My dad somehow managed to butt dial 911 while at the gun range one day... that was a fun adventure.

              • by Macrat (638047)

                My dad somehow managed to butt dial 911 while at the gun range one day... that was a fun adventure.

                Many cell phones have an "emergency" button that will dial even when the keypad is locked. Makes it very easy to butt dial. (On my Sony Ericsson P800 it I learned it was the 8 key.)

          • In the US, they'll send someone no matter what. Interesting fact - on some phones (verizon), typing 911 without hitting send will still contact 911. This happened to a friend of mine.. she typed 911 as a joke, didn't hit send, then hung up. She got a call back, then explained it was a mistake, but they still had to send a cop to the house.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by delinear (991444)
              This is about helping to determine the appropriate response, though. It could be the difference between "it's probably an accidental dial, we'll have someone pop around in a couple of hours while he's doing the doughnut run" and "armed siege in progress, we'll have SWAT there in munutes".
        • Re:What the hell (Score:4, Interesting)

          by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:42AM (#34317362) Homepage

          Welcome to the UK then.

          The instructions to the dispatchers in cases like this used to be that they ignore you and hang up. This has thankfully recently changed as a result of a inquiry on a case where a girl was hijacked and called 999 (UK equivalent of 911) twice, got ignored twice and was raped and murdered. This has also happened more than once - 2003, 2004, 2007 are the well known cases which have made the national media.

          http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/mobile/magazine/7748046.stm [bbc.co.uk]

          However, IIRC even the new instructions which have been put in after this, still require the dispatcher to try to talk to you first which will make the phone speak and give away your position and the fact that you have dialed straight away (you really do not want your pants talking to you when you are looking down the barrel of a 9mm handgun). In addition to that nobody knows that you are not listened to and nobody knows that you are supposed to press a few numbers to indicate that you actually mean what you mean. And nobody knows the text number even if it is available in your area and it is not standardised internationally.

          Compared vs that I would rather have texts to 112 (999/911 are handled by same call routing) anyday.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by RKenshin1 (899412)
          Also, I found this tidbit out from working with our Sheriff's Office for the past 3 years.... Most of the time, a cell phone location can't be pinpointed. It does pinpoint on the mapping system, but it's a best guess based on triangulation between towers. Often, you have to assume it's within a square mile of where it shows on the mapping system. It may be a lot different in larger cities with a higher tower density, but that's been my experience with cell phone mapping. Definitely not what you see in
        • Re:What the hell (Score:4, Insightful)

          by peragrin (659227) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:46AM (#34317420)

          um you do realise they can't track about 70% of the cell phones currently in use right.

          triangulation takes time 10-15 minutes at a minimum. so unless your phone broadcasts e911 gps they don't know where you are. And even if you are broadcasting e911, that doesn't mean the 911 dispatcher you have connected to has similar abilities to receive it. The dispatcher won't hang up but can do nothing until someone tells them where they are. So no the cops won't be on their way until someone knows where to send them.

          ultimately 911, operators should be able to receive and send phone calls, multimedia texts, GPS data from the phones, and have someone create a video phone standard and add that as well.

          The more information one has the better. However most people don't realize just how little good information is actually told to 911.

          • by dnaumov (453672)

            um you do realise they can't track about 70% of the cell phones currently in use right.

            triangulation takes time 10-15 minutes at a minimum. so unless your phone broadcasts e911 gps they don't know where you are.

            What kind of assbackwards mobile network are you talking about? Triangulation using mobile base stations is at most, a 2-3 minute affair.

            - sincerely,
            European mobile providers

        • From FCC Site:

          Phase II E911 rules require wireless service providers to: * within six minutes of a valid request by a PSAP, provide more precise location information to PSAPs; specifically, the latitude and longitude of the caller. This information must be accurate to within 50 to 300 meters depending on the type of technology used.

          If your willing to bet your life on 6 minutes and 1000 feet that's fine, but I rather not. Sorry, what's that, you use a GPS based system and your in a heavily constructed bank

        • Yes a cop might be on the way. But there are times such as with Virginia Tech and other hostage situations where a cop isn't going to do the job. Look, if someone or a group of people has a large amount of hostages, you want a hostage negotiator or a SWAT team, you don't want the typical donut eating cop to show up. Texting through 911 would make it be easier, that way you can differentiate between "hes taking all the money from the register and just needs to be scared away" and "he's got a gun to the cashi
        • by Myopic (18616)

          If I were in a noise-sensitive situation, it is the "hello? hello?" that I would be worried about.

          Anyway, the way I see it 911 should be able to receive just about any possible type of communication: traditional phone, cell phone, CB radio, short wave radio, text, video, carrier pigeon, email, IM, snail mail, Wave. Everything EXCEPT that new Facebook thing, because that is stupid.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jra (5600)

      Yeah, only if you're hunkered down behind a desk, hoping the gunman won't notice you used Old Spice when you showered this morning.

      Oh, and don't forget to turn your ringer off...

      This will fail on false alarms, just as would the slightly more intelligent "provide a mobile-friendly webpage" idea. Also no way to tag the GPS location on it.

      • Also no way to tag the GPS location on it.

        Could have the Telecoms company provide a rough location though, so that at least they can get some officers into the general area ready to respond on any further info? Or maybe even a precise location if enough cell towers are around.

        • by MobyDisk (75490)

          They already do. Some years ago, the FCC mandated that all cell phones send location information when the phone dials 911. [wikipedia.org] It is somewhat of a necessity anyway, since if I am in California but my billing address is in New York, you don't want the New York 911 dispatcher to get my call. There was an uproar over this ruling, because it doesn't prevent the from sending this location information when other calls are made.

          • by AndrewNeo (979708)

            This isn't how determining where your 911 call is routed works. The tower/phone exchange know where to forward you to for 911, the position data you pointed out is for 911, not for the phone company to tell you where 911 is.

    • Re:What the hell (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:04AM (#34316938) Homepage Journal

      The necessary info is almost always "I need the cops at location X". Usually just the call itself, which carries location info (E911 from mobiles), is sufficient. But sometimes telling the cops that the emergency is armed, perhaps heavily, the number of people, or some other details, can help the first responders arrive better prepared to cope with the situation more quickly, safely and effectively. But it's also common for people in the emergency not to be able to talk, lest they tip off the people causing the emergency.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      If the dispatcher needs more info, they can always text back.

      Besides with cellphone GPS, it pretty much provides everything that might be needed. "I'm being held hostage by a shooter at UVA!" plus the GPS will tell the dispatcher where to send police. IMHO it makes logical sense to tap the new techniques that texting and built-in cameras provide.

      • by goldaryn (834427)

        If the dispatcher needs more info, they can always text back.

        "bein hld hstg @ UVA 2 guy w smg"

        "lol"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pla (258480)
      Is there any reason why you should text a 911 responder instead of just calling them?

      Oh, I dunno, perhaps because you don't want the guy with a gun across the hall to hear you calling the police, as per TFA? Because your steering wheel has crushed your larynx and you can't talk? Or hell, just because you don't want to give 27 forms of ID before they'll even listen to your problem (I personally love that one - God forbid anyone actually use 911 for a real emergency, you'd die before the operator stops a
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ok, so college students actually thought that you can TEXT to 911? WTF.

    • by Spad (470073)

      The only reasonable case I can think of is if you need to stay silent while doing so.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094)

      The more relevant question is: Is there any reason why 911 dispatchers should be unable to receive (and seemingly ignore) text messages?

      Sure, an interactive phone conversation is ideal, but the nature of emergencies is that they are not ideal situations. The caller may not be able to talk. The caller may lose consciousness. The caller may be incoherent. They may have to immediately hang up. Dispatchers take the alert - whatever it consists of - and act based on what information they have. If someone s

    • by lxs (131946)

      Plenty of reasons:

      How about: "Im choking - snd amulance!"
      Deaf-mutes can report fires...
      What if you're in an extremely noisy environment and can't make yourself heard?

    • Re:What the hell (Score:5, Insightful)

      by heikkile (111814) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:30AM (#34317222) Homepage
      Here in Denmark we were taught that if the coverage is bad, as it often is at sea, a text message is more likely to make it through. Same might be the case with low battery situations, and even if speaking aloud is not safe, as could be the case in some shooting and hijacking situations. In some situations the background noise may make voice communications unreliable, and some accidents may even disturb your ability to speak... Many reasons to allow the use of text messages.
    • Is there any reason why you should text a 911 responder instead of just calling them?

      yes.

    • Without interacting with the dispatcher, you can't be sure that you've provided the necessary info. Talking is faster than typing, even for a T9 wizard. Is there any reason why you should text a 911 responder instead of just calling them?

      Could you be deaf? That wouldn't necessarily preclude carrying a cell phone these days.

    • Is there any reason why you should text a 911 responder instead of just calling them?

      Yeah. I can type without looking at the keys. A useful thing when a gun is pointed to your head and you don't want to alert the gunman that you're calling 911 and giving them a physical description, possibly a picture, his present location, and what he's armed with, as well as where his co-conspirators are.

      • by Duradin (1261418)

        And they aren't going to notice all the hand movements for texting when they are pointing their gun at you?

    • If the VA Tech gunman was in the room with a bunch of hostages you can bet no one would be talking to 911 but if they could text it may have made all the difference. MMS messages would be even better.
  • Based on the summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:05AM (#34316956)
    Based on the summary it seems that the text generation expected 911 to work the way their life works. It is a pity that texting 911 didn't work and it is interesting that it is being investigated
  • Sounds problematic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by C_Kode (102755) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:06AM (#34316962) Journal

    This sounds very problematic. First off, you can text from a computer without a phone number. Prank text messages sounds like it could be a real problem.

    Second, dispatch can't ask distinct questions and anyone who works in IT that has dealt with people with problems, they aren't always clear and concise what is happening.

    • First off, you can text from a computer without a phone number. Prank text messages sounds like it could be a real problem.

      If you were that interested in prank calls you could use a public payphone. They could also filter out messages sent from anonymous/public text services, only accepting properly registered numbers, and limit it to responses to serious situations rather than "I broke my leg, but I can't be bothered calling you so I'm texting instead".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by faedle (114018)

      You do realize that E911 has to know the phone number to know what dispatch center to route the "call" to. So, I suspect that it would likely cause a different problem: if you texted 911 from a phantom number, the text would simply be dropped because it would not know how to route the call.

      • by bsDaemon (87307)

        Or, say you're a student from out-of-state, and your phone has a way different area code. You call 911 from your phone and it just checks the origin number, then routes you to 911 in New Jersey when you're in Mass. having an emergency. Hopefully they have a different way of figuring it for cell phones than just the number?

    • by grumbel (592662)

      This sounds very problematic.

      The alternative to text messages here isn't a phone call, but no contact to 911 at all (example is given right in the summary). Doesn't sound that problematic when seen this way. Also this isn't just about texting, but about using capabilities of mobile phones in general, live video streaming could be quite handy in many emergencies.

  • I'm sure this will lead to many more 911 pranks. Kids are stupid and will only be more brazen about it when they don't have to actually talk to someone.
    • by Cwix (1671282)

      Arrest them.

      Take the kid downtown, put him in a cell, call parents. If the parents act like asses press charges against the kid, if they dont and promise to take care of the issue let him out. Once little billys friends find out you get arrested for this, it wont happen anymore. If it does, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Press charges as a repeat offender and force the kid to spend a week in juvie. ( My little brother had to spend a week in juvie for something along these lines. I

      • Arrest them.

        Take the kid downtown, put him in a cell, call parents. If the parents act like asses press charges against the kid, if they dont and promise to take care of the issue let him out. Once little billys friends find out you get arrested for this, it wont happen anymore. If it does, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Press charges as a repeat offender and force the kid to spend a week in juvie. ( My little brother had to spend a week in juvie for something along these lines. It straightened him right out.)

        Come on! We can't do that! Their self-esteem might be affected!

        • by Cwix (1671282)

          I know, added benefit. Perhaps if the brat (and prank calling 911 makes a kid a brat) learns he/she isnt the center of the universe, they can start acting like a normal human.

          • by Cwix (1671282)

            Nix normal human... make that civilized human. Its almost normal to be a bratty person these days.

  • I just had an idea, about accurately timestamped and geo-tagged SMSes (the second requirement is more or less impossible at the moment, since GPS lock is hard to get indoors), the 911 dispatch could get a swarm of the SMSes and with a visualization tool see how serious the situation is, and where the SMSes are coming from. (For a rough estimate of location, cell-tower identification would probably be sufficient).

    The sonar tech that Bruce Wayne embedded quietly into civilian phones in the Dark Knight is also

    • the 911 dispatch could get a swarm of the SMSes and with a visualization tool see how serious the situation is, and where the SMSes are coming from. (For a rough estimate of location, cell-tower identification would probably be sufficient).

      Sounds like they should just use Twitter? They already have Geotagging [twitter.com]. Personally I've not found any use for Twitter yet, but this sounds like a great use for it!

  • Next will be 911 operators could have had responders on the scene faster if they just understood the messages.

  • Oh, come on. It's an emergency. Make a fuckin' phone call.
    "H3LP TEY HZ GUNZ" is not going to cut it.
    This is a time for clear and quick communication, not being fashionable.
  • by beetle496 (677137) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:18AM (#34317092) Homepage
    As announced in the Federal Register [federalregister.gov], this is actually a proposed rule which is open for public comments [regulations.gov].
  • At least it's started. There was a news article last year about a successful text to 911 in Blackhawk Iowa.

    Ah, here's a link to a press release about it:

    http://www.intrado.com/assets/documents/blackhawk.pdf [intrado.com]

    [John]

  • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:47AM (#34317432)

    Hmm. I'd care about this much more for 311 (that is, the non-emergency catch-all city services line). Email wouldn't be bad either.

    Seriously -- being able to send a photo of a pothole or a tree branch hanging too close to the road or someone illegally parked in a bike lane on a curve after a steep downhill (yes, there's an area on my commute matching exactly that description) with a GPS tag on the photo and a line or two of text would be much more convenient than pulling over and spending 5 minutes trying to figure out the address, walk the operator through deciding how to file the ticket (is it an immediate safety hazard or a maybe-next-week issue?), etc.

  • Other way (Score:3, Informative)

    by wraithguard01 (1159479) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:52AM (#34317496) Homepage
    I'm a volunteer firefighter, and our dispatch center already sends us texts, as well as the typical page out over radio. That system proves incredibly useful for us. There is no way for us to text back through the system though, and the number is not a 911 number, it's a normal SMS short code number. Of course, going the other way is a different situation entirely, but my point is, I think that this shows that it is inevitable that texting is going to soon become a part of normal 911 operations.
  • I accidentally a whole coke bottle.
  • I worked in an ambulance control and each dispatch desk had mobile phones available to be used as neccessary - I used one to communicate by text with someone stuck up a mountain with a mobile phone running out of charge.

    I can see how in a school shooting it would be useful for the caller to communicate without speaking (giving away their location) but I would maintain that a voice call should be initiated first. Even if the caller is not speaking background audio provides valuable situational awareness.

    How

  • 1) Get a Twitter subscription
    2) Monitor #911
    3) DONE!

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