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FCC announces plan for delivering emergency text and video

The FCC has announced a five-step plan for sending text messages, photos and videos to emergency 911 services. For the first time, the plan would include smart phones and other wireless computing devices as a way to communicate vital information in a time of crisis.

The plan — called “NG9-1-1 for Next Generation 911 Services” — allows text messaging, as well as live video streaming, automatic alarm, or medical sensors and other data services. The standard supports seamless, end-to-end IP-based communication of emergency-related data between public safety answer points (PSAPs) and the public.

Speaking at the 2011 Association of Public-Safety Communications conference in Philadelphia last week, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski announced the five-step plan. It includes developing location accuracy mechanisms for NG9-1-1; establishing a method to enable consumers to transmit text, photos and videos to PSAPs; facilitating the completion of the NG9-1-1 technical standard; developing a NG9-1-1 governance framework; and securing funding to support the system.

“This new technology and service will turn mobile devices into emergency alert devices with potentially life-saving messages when public safety is threatened,” Genachowski said. “NG9-1-1 is an emergency response system that will run on the broadband networks of the 21st century, instead of the circuit-switched copper networks of the 20th century.”

He said the new technology and service will turn mobile devices into emergency alert devices with potentially life-saving messages when public safety is threatened.

Referring to the recent launch in New York City of PLAN (the Personal Localized Network), which uses the new technology, Genachowski noted that it will go into effect by Dec. 31 and will launch nationwide in April 2012.

“With PLAN, government officials will be able to send text-like alerts to everyone in a targeted geographic area with an enabled mobile device,” he said. “Since the alerts are geographically targeted, they will reach the right people, at the right time, with the right messages. And PLAN creates a fast lane for emergency alerts, so this vital information is guaranteed to get through even if there’s congestion in the network.”

Most modern smart phone platforms, including Apple’s iPhone and the Android platform, have apps like Qik or Ustream that can share video in real time, and some have dual cameras that can be used to show both the participant and the scene ahead, both of which could be critical in an emergency call.

A priority for the FCC is to get a perfect fix on locations quickly. There is also hope for a common governing framework to get consistent behavior from state to state, as well as a funding model that would make sure it could keep running.

The current plan will be expanded in greater detail with proposed rulemaking at an open FCC meeting in September.