PHOTO: Sen. Schumer is asking the FCC and cell phone carriers to make Text-to-911 a reality in New York. Courtesy of Senate Democrats
By Forum Staff
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday urged the Federal Communications Commission to work with wireless service providers to implement Text-to-911 services throughout the Empire State, including in New York City and Long Island.
Text-to-911 is the ability to reach 911 emergency call centers via text message. Schumer said that this service can provide invaluable help to those with disabilities or to those who are in situations in which initiating a voice call may be too dangerous. Schumer said that the recent terror attack in Orlando further proves how crucial the service is.
“Some of the first facts we learned about Orlando were generated via a text message to a loved one. These texts did what the voice could not in that instance—communicate,” Schumer said. “When there’s an emergency, we should be using text messaging to save lives by informing 911 dispatchers of critical details that can guide first responders. Whether it’s a person hiding in a closet during a burglary, or a person with a disability or someone in the midst of something far more sinister, like a mass shooting, a single text could be a godsend that gives law enforcement the upper hand. Furthermore, this is New York City. We build skyscrapers. We innovate better than anyone and we have some of the smartest collection of minds all in one place. We should—without a doubt—be able to make texting 911 a reality sooner rather than later.”
Schumer went on to say that “it is imperative” for 911 systems to possess full cellular capabilities that ensure a text, pictures, or video message can be sent to emergency call centers, because these capabilities get more information to first responders in real time. They would also allow location information from mobile devices to be more accurate while mitigating routing errors (e.g. calls going to the wrong 911 center.) Despite the clear benefits, Schumer said barriers still remain to cities seeking new 911 capabilities.
Next Generation systems (NG911), like New York City is working towards, would aim for a modern 911 system with the full technological capabilities Schumer says are essential to public safety and need to be sped up, with the FCC leading the charge.
New York’s senior senator has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, imploring the commission to act quickly, because “there is no time to waste” when it comes to ensuring that messaging tools are available to dispatchers and first responders.
“Recent events have shown the need to increase the ways we can access 911 dispatchers. In fact, during the Orlando shooting, many individuals were able to use their cell phones to contact loved ones; however they were unable to contact 911,” Schumer wrote. “In areas where call centers experience high call volumes, 911 technologies like NG911, which supports voice, text, data, and video communication, can help overburdened emergency centers better handle their response.”
On Sunday, Schumer pointed to several examples in which Text-to-911 services helped people in a dangerous situation. In Nebraska, earlier this year, two children may have saved their own lives when their father was driving drunk. After refusing to pull over – and barely escaping a head on collision – the children texted 911 and police were able to catch up with the vehicle and arrest the father.
Around the same time in Indiana, a woman was able to text 911 dispatchers during a domestic violence incident in which a gun was pulled on her and speaking on the phone would have put her in more danger.
In order to establish these new services in counties across the country, new and updated network systems must be installed, Schumer noted. The new system requires upgraded hardware and software. Many counties do not yet have the technological capabilities to implement these new Text-to-911 services, even throughout New York, the senator said.
“While I understand that there are many complex elements to the updating of 911 systems,” Schumer wrote to Wheeler, “I believe your Commission has the authority to expedite the process and play a more substantial role in its progress…It is my hope that the FCC does everything possible to elevate this issue and facilitate a swift transition to a more advanced 911 system.”