This year will mark a milestone in the development of a decades-old technology critical to public safety in the US. The 911 system is moving into the next generation (NG911) with support for video, pictures and text messaging – methods of communication popular with an increasingly mobile society. By embracing an updated digital network and the capability to receive multimedia information, 911 Public Safety Answering Points (emergency call centers) and law enforcement agencies are ushering in the next generation of improvements in public and officer safety. Net Transcripts’ services provide accurate, verbatim transcription of 911 and dispatch communications, and as NG911 technology continues to be utilized over the next few years, more agencies may also request transcription of video conversation.
With NG911 updates, citizens will be able to send media such as pictures and text messages to 911. This allows for emergency communication in situations where speaking aloud to a dispatcher would endanger the caller. Citizens who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or have other physical or mental special needs will also benefit from utilizing direct text-to-911 in place of specialized relay equipment to communicate with call centers. Amherst Police Department Chief Joseph Kucirek notes that adopting text messaging as a method of contacting police or emergency services will also encourage a younger generation to report information they would not feel comfortable delivering in person, especially tips related to school safety, crimes and illegal substance use.
Calling 911 is still the safest and most efficient way to provide details in the event of an emergency, but the ability to text 911 call centers has long been in demand. Since October 2012, there have been over 13,000 attempts to text 911 when the technology has not been available, according to Seth Sonenthal of TeleCommunication Systems Inc. As mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, wireless companies will be rolling out text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014. After this date, users serviced by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon will be able to send an emergency text message to call centers upgraded with text-to-911 or full NG911 technology. In the meantime, attempts to send data or text messages to 911 will result in a bounce-back message directing the individual to place a call for emergency services.
Text-to-911 technology is just one component of Next Generation 911, which would also introduce major improvements in locating callers on wireless devices and handling call overloads. In the event of a natural disaster or other emergency that disables a Public Safety Answering Point, NG911 technology will transfer calls and digital information to an available center on the network.
For law enforcement agencies, upgrading to NG911 enhances communication with the public and arms dispatched officers with more information on emergency situations. Map data can be quickly forwarded to officer’s vehicles, along with videos and pictures received by call center staff to help assess the scene before arrival. Many agencies nationwide have already upgraded to the new technology, and will begin working with video and text messages sent to emergency call centers in the coming year.