The FCC announced that the “Big Four” wireless carriers — Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — which serve most of the wireless subscribers in the country, have committed to offering customers a text-to-911 option. Implementation will being in 2013 and be available nationwide by 2014.
Text-to-911 is part of the FCC’s Next Generation 911 Initiative (NG911), which seeks to establish a digital foundation for emergency calls. However, the text option is not intended to replace 911 voice calls. The goal of the initiative is to expand the communication options for Americans.
The text option will be especially beneficial in situations where calling 911 would be dangerous or difficult, such as during a crime or a natural disaster. Furthermore, a text-to-911 service is vital for the 34 million Americans who have hearing or speech impairments.
“Access to 9-1-1 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century – and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal,” FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in an FCC press release announcing the agreement.
The plan will undoubtedly require changes in hardware, software and training for 911 centers. According to this press release from the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the FCC and the wireless carriers will be working with industry, public safety and consumer groups “to develop the technical standards and operational procedures that will ensure a seamless introduction of texting into 9-1-1 centers across America.”