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Cellphones Government Technology

FCC To Allow Texting To 911 321

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: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.

  • Re:What the hell (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jra ( 5600 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:03AM (#34316926)

    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.

  • 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:What the hell (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:06AM (#34316960) Journal
    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 asking for details like your college roommate's pet chinchilla's name)?

    I agree that 99.9% of the time, you should just call instead of texting. But if that 0.1% makes a difference, why not allow it?
  • 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.

  • Re:What the hell (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:07AM (#34316970)

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

  • by rjstanford ( 69735 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:19AM (#34317106) Homepage Journal

    It better be 100% free and work with txting blocked and even if you have no sim.

    If you think you need to make a 911 contact, but wouldn't if it would cost you a dime, then you don't need to make a 911 contact.

    Problem solved.

  • Re:What the hell (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:24AM (#34317152) Homepage

    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 sends a text message to 911 instead of calling, why shouldn't they be equipped to receive it (and respond to it)?

  • 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.
  • 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.

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

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @10:50AM (#34317472) Homepage

    Especially in a crisis situation, a college student whose friends all have SMS-enabled phones, and even their old-fashioned parents do, might not stop to consider that the people at 911 - who supposedly have state of the art technology - don't.

  • Re:What the hell (Score:3, Insightful)

    by delinear ( 991444 ) on Tuesday November 23, 2010 @11:37AM (#34318050)
    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".

Yes, we will be going to OSI, Mars, and Pluto, but not necessarily in that order. -- Jeffrey Honig