As mentioned by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Friday and reported by Bloomberg, Verizon is planning to launch the first ‘text-to-911’ service in the United States within the next twelve months. Verizon Wireless users will be able to contact a 911 call center with a simple text message and request help for an emergency situation. Particularly useful for hearing-impaired users, this will also help people that have poor wireless reception for a voice call or are simply running out of battery power on their phone. In order to kick off the project, Verizon has selected a vendor, TeleCommunication Systems Inc., that will help the company perform the necessary software and hardware upgrades to roll out the new feature.
In regards to the ‘text-to-911’ upgrade, Verizon Wireless vice president of technology Marjorie Hsu stated “Verizon is at the forefront of 911 public-safety innovations, and today’s announcement is another step in making SMS-to-911 service available to those who cannot make a voice call to 911.Our company is continuing its long-standing commitment to address the needs of public safety and our customers by offering another way to get help in an emergency by using wireless technology.”
In order to take advantage of the ‘text-to-911’ feature, a Verizon Wireless customer will need to own a phone capable of sending text messages in addition to paying for a monthly service plan that covers text messages. The company plans to roll out the feature to select metropolitan areas during the first six months of 2013 before launching the service across the entire nation.
The United States has lagged behind other countries in regards to the launch of this feature. For instance, residents of the UK can register their phone with the EmergencySMS service and send a text message to local emergency services. While the feature is specifically designed for deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people, it’s definitely helpful for anyone that’s in a dangerous situation and is unable to talk over the phone.
Individual states and cities within the U.S. have tried to upgrade their emergency systems to offer ‘text-to-911’ capabilities, but progress has been slow. For instance, New York City’s mayor Bloomberg has promised the ‘text-to-911’ upgrade for the last four years, but technology issues and budget constraints have got in the way of the upgrades.
Last year, the FCC chairman announced plans to upgrade the entire nation’s emergency systems to accept text messages as well as video and photos, but progress on that initiative has been sluggish as well. If the plan is eventually approved by Congress, smartphone owners will also be able to transmit location data to emergency services assuming the phone is enabled with GPS hardware.
However, the FCC is also mandating that GPS hardware has to be included in all wireless phones by 2018, thus the majority of mobile phone owners would be in a position to send their location to 911 services and potentially speed up the response time of the police department, fire department or medical services. Verizon hasn’t specifically indicated how much information will be sent with emergency text messages over its ‘text-to-911’ service.