Is the FCC's plan to modernize 911 beneficial?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: November 25, 2010

Two days ago, we learned that the FCC was looking into giving the 911 emergency response system a nice upgrade to keep things current. The plans are to upgrade the systems to be able to handle text messaging, video streaming, and MMS as ways to report emergencies. It's something that has needed to be done for quite some time. A short while back, I was thinking (because I always have random thoughts like this) about what would happen if a deaf person, or even a mute, were in trouble and needed to contact 911. Or like I mentioned before, if you were kidnapped and you were to try and call 911, it could end badly. Text messaging would solve both of these issues and many more.

The issue that would inevitably arise from this upgrade is people, mostly adolescents, trying their hand at their homegrown crank yanking skills via text or MMS. Of course, the FCC would have thought of this and hopefully had some way of dealing with this. The question is, how would they enforce it? Whether it be by steep fines for interfering with official business or punishment by law, I'm sure the FCC would have it covered. But what if someone accidentally texted 911 (it's perfectly possible with all of the texting newcomers)?

The other problem, from the dispatchers side of things, is their being able to translate text messages. There is no doubt in my mind that when people text in emergency situations, their typing skills are going to decline. That's on top of already bad texters and poorly abbreviated words. What would normally be, "Help! Someone is trying to kill me!" could turn into, "HLP! Sm1 is tryn 2 kill me!" That example isn't worst case scenario, but people can find ways to abbreviate anything, and make something that should be simple to understand, a cryptic message. Maybe they could partner with Apple and utilize that anti-sexting patent they were granted last month that would force people to type everything correctly. Unfortunately, if someone is in a life or death situation, I hardly believe they're going to want to worry about whether they spelled something correctly or not. There needs to be a level of understanding between the sender and dispatcher, since it can take longer to get a response via text message compared to being on a phone, things will need to be worded at a comprehensible level.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that this upgrade is long overdue, but if they follow through, they will have to think of absolutely everything. There are obviously a lot of questions to be answered, but it should be a welcomed upgrade from everyone. I know I'm not alone when I say I'd rather text than have to call someone, especially in a serious situation. It could eliminate a lot of room for error and better prepare response teams for the task at hand, but it could also stand in the way if too many people abuse the system. Just please, no sexting with the dispatcher.