On Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer told reporters that he is in talks with the Federal Communications Commission to allow people to text the 911 service in case of emergencies across his home state.
The text-to-911 service is already available in 20 counties but major urban areas including New York City are not covered. The senator noted that call centers will need to update both their hardware and software systems for the changes.
Schumer came up with the idea after the Orlando massacre where victims texted their loved ones to call for help as they weren’t able to make voice calls to 911. The NY Senator noted that the texts communicated what the voice could not amid the terror at the Pulse nightclub.
Schumer believes that victims should be allowed to inform 911 dispatchers via text messages on their status in life-threatening situations. He believes that the updated system could help save many more lives as many victims are left unheard or critical details fail to reach first responders.
The victims at the Orlando gay club did not have this opportunity.
Schumer added that people in distress should also be allowed to send videos and images to 911 operators even if that involves heavy investments in logistics.
He urged the FCC to rush the implementation of the system across New York State. Schumer even cited several instances when the system could be life saving such as in the case of a person trapped in a closet during a break-in or a mass-shooting victim that needs not to be heard by the shooters.
“[…] a single text could be a godsend that gives law enforcement the upper hand,”
The FCC pledged on its site that the service will be available nationwide “in the future.” The agency noted that the service is only available if 911 centers agree to accept it. You can check an updated list with the states and counties that accept the text-to-911 service on the FCC website.
Under a 2014 FCC rule, wireless carriers are forced to set up the infrastructure in a specific area if a 911 call center requests access to text message services within six months.
However, the federal agency cautioned that the text-to-911 service complements not replaces the voice-based service. Phone users are advised to call not text 911 when that is possible.
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