A fire has started in your dryer, and you call 911. In addition to hearing your frantic description, the 911 operator also automatically logs your location and receives live video from you of the smoke emanating from your dryer.
That vision of a multimedia 911 could become commonplace following the implementation of a new plan by the Federal Communications Commission for the development of Next Generation 9-1-1, or NG911. The plan, outlined Wednesday at a conference in Philadelphia by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, features five steps toward the implementation of an IP-based communication of emergency-related voice, text, data, phones and video.
'As Long as Necessary'
During the transition, old-fashioned 911 will continue to be supported "as long as necessary," the agency said. The FCC added that NG911's benefits include increased public access, such as expanded accessibility for people with disabilities, and providing more communications options in emergencies.
In addition, the agency said, operators at 911 answering posts will be able to "access emergencies more quickly and respond more effectively" if they have access to the additional media and data. From a system perspective, the IP-based architecture offers more flexibility and resiliency than the legacy circuit-switched 911 infrastructure.
The first of the five steps to implement this new generation is to develop location-accuracy mechanisms for NG911. In July, the FCC started development of a framework for automatic location information in a NG911 environment.
In September, as the second step, the FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or NPRM, to speed up the adoption of NG911. It will answer practical and technical questions about the implementation, such as ensuring adequate bandwidth. The third major step is to work with stakeholders to resolve standards issues.
'Efficient and Easy'
Since no single government entity has authority over NG911, the fourth step is for the FCC to work with other government agencies to develop a coordinated approach for managing and governing NG911. And finally, a cost model will be developed to determine the cost-effectiveness of the NG911 network infrastructure, which links 911 answering centers with carriers.
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said the current 911 system is "fairly efficient and easy to remember," adding that it isn't clear if photos or video from an emergency scene would add much to the urgent need for help. But he noted that at least one piece of data -- the location -- could obviously add useful information.
NG911 is the latest FCC effort to modernize emergency communications systems. A recently launched Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN, allows mobile-device owners to receive geographically targeted text messages if there are safety threats near their location. Last month, the agency required all wireless carriers to meet more rigorous standards for location accuracy.