As phones have evolved from telephonic style communication to a computer in the user’s hands, the expansion of communication possibilities has increased ten-fold. Whereas 10 years ago, a user could dial 911 and only tell the operator what was occurring, users can now text, send a photo message, video message, e-mail or even contact an agency via some form of social media. (While using social media is not recommended as the choice for reporting an emergency situation, it can be an effective way for police to update citizens about emergencies.)
On the other hand, PSAPs need the technology to accommodate these new reporting capabilities. Not all next generation technology has worked smoothly in real-time situations. During the Virginia Tech shooting, for example, text messages sent to the 911 center were not consistently received. Since then, the FCC together with law enforcement agencies has aggressively approached these issues to the extent that this avenue of expansion offers a solution much more than it creates a problem.
The expansion of technology has led to a need for rapid changes to 911 services, if they are to remain effective. No one side holds the solutions. Service providers, public safety services and consumers need to work together to continue to develop, maintain and improve these technologies’ capabilities and efficiency. Infrastructure has to be updated and technology enhanced for public safety service providers to be able to respond to emergencies. Great steps have been taken, but leaps are still needed.