Texting 911 could be valuable in emergencies like the Orlando nightclub shooting or a domestic violence incident, where it is unsafe to make any noise let alone talk out loud about the danger at hand. Sending text messages to 911 could allow people who are deaf or have speech impairments to communicate without other special devices. So far few states and cities have adopted 911 texting, but that will change over the next several years, as utility companies abandon old copper phone lines for fiber optic cables, reports Stateline. That transition, which phone companies say they want to complete by 2020, is also forcing states and cities to cut their traditional emergency phone networks in exchange for Internet Protocol networks, which can send digital voice, photo, and video information over the internet.
A speedy transition is critical, because 70 percent of 911 calls are now made with wireless phones that cannot be accurately routed with existing technology. Upgrading the 911 infrastructure would enable emergency responders to get to callers faster and receive detailed information, like video from a crime scene as it happens. Some proponents of the transition say it could also save local governments money by consolidating call centers on a statewide or regional network. The National Emergency Number Association, which represents government agencies and private firms involved in the emergency system, and the National 911 Program, housed in the U.S. Department of Transportation, are pushing states and localities to adopt what they call Next Generation 911. The cost of making the switch will vary by jurisdiction, but major metropolitan governments can expect to spent between $5 million and $7 million, and potentially more depending on other equipment and network needs.