While the country’s 911 systems have been highly successful for more than 40 years, changes in technology are making current systems obsolete. Designed around outdated phone technology, some current 911 systems cannot handle the text, images, video, and data that people frequently use in their current communications.
Sending texts can be a matter of personal preference as most parents can attest to, but in some situations, texts are a critical means of communication. For instance, those who are deaf or hard of hearing find it much easier to text in cases of an emergency.
Sometimes it’s not feasible to make 911 calls, but sending a text is an option. Two recent cases demonstrate this. A text saved the life of the Police Chief of Kemp, Texas, when the man fell into an abandoned well filled with eight feet of water in 2013. He was unable to make a 911 call, but by sending a text to the city secretary, she was able to contact 911 and save his life.
Another incident took place in Black Hawk County, Iowa, when a woman had locked herself in her bedroom when an individual broke into her house. She was afraid that making a phone call would give away her location, so she texted her location to a 911 dispatcher. The police responded and arrested the perpetrator, while the woman remained unharmed.
These cases demonstrate the utility of being able to text crisis information to 911 dispatchers. Many law enforcement officials see the writing on the wall and are firmly behind efforts to alter 911 systems so they readily accept texts. This has already been done in some parts of the country.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) is working on next generation 911 systems that will be able to recognize voice, video, and data transmission from various types of communication networks. Once fully implemented, these next generation 911 systems have the potential to revolutionize the future of 911 dispatching in the US.