LA city council orders investigation into text-to-911 possibilities

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council ordered a study into an upgraded 911 service that would allow citizens to text messages, photos and videos to emergency operators. The project is being called "Next Generation 911."

Currently, individuals in LA who send an SMS to 911 receive a reply advising them to place a voice call. 

City Councilman Paul Krekorian proposed the idea on Friday of updating the 45-year-old emergency system, making it more accessible to citizens.Individuals report that they prefer to send and receive text messages as opposed to phone calls, and Next Generation 911 would reflect the country's evolving use of mobile devices.

"The technology hasn't really kept pace with the rest of society," he said in the meeting. "The point of this is not to replace our current 911 system but simply to expand it to give people in emergency need a greater range of options to be able to get help. It's not going to take anything away from the existing 911 system. If someone can call, they will. If they can't call for any reason, they need another option."

Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former Los Angeles police officer, seconded Krekorian's motion, adding that "time is of the essence" when reporting emergencies. 

Cities in Vermont and Texas have already implemented text-to-911 programs successfully and are counted among the nearly 100 cities across the country that have adopted the technology. With so much initial growth, it seems like only a matter of time before all areas offer the expanded emergency service.  

The city council closed their meeting with a 12-0 vote, directing city officials including members of the police, information technology units and fire departments to investigate and report back to the council in six months on how the city can achieve Next Generation 911 capabilities. 

Enabling text-to-911 services provides needed security measures for people who might not be able to make a voice call. For instance, texting to the emergency response system will allow people with hearing disabilities to get immediate help. Krekorian also raised the possible benefits of texting during a hostage situation. 

"Take, for example, a situation where someone has a home invader, and they're hiding in a closet and they don't want their voice to be heard," he said. "Shouldn't they have the opportunity to send that text and get an immediate response?"

Last month the Federal Communications Commission ordered all wireless carriers to enable text-to-911 functions by the end of 2014. However, they also communicated that people should only use texting capabilities in events that truly require it, as phone calls are much quicker and more efficient. 

More people are texting today than ever and, as a result, text messaging services are expanding to cover a wide range of society's needs.