You’ll Soon Be Able to Text 911 for Emergencies

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The sad truth is that dialing 911 for emergencies has been in need of a major overhaul for quite some time, and from a technological standpoint isn’t only dated — it’s highly inefficient. If you place a call from a mobile device, for example, call centers are reportedly unable to do something as basic as pinpoint your exact location.

It’s a harrowing thought, especially in an age of mobile-enabled media like Foursquare, or even Twitter. It leaves one wondering: Shouldn’t public safety be more of a priority?

But soon, a new FCC initiative called Next Generation 911 (NG11) will allow users to send texts, photos and videos to emergency answering points while developing “location accuracy mechanisms” to help find callers faster.

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“The unfortunate truth is that the capability of our emergency response communications has not kept pace with commercial innovation — has not kept pace with what ordinary people now do every day with communications devices,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a meeting of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials in Philadelphia yesterday.

The five-step plan (which you can read in PDF form here) seeks to:

1. Develop location accuracy mechanisms
2. Enable consumers to send text, photos, and videos
3. Facilitate the completion and implementation of NG911 technical standards
4. Develop an NG911 governance framework
5. Develop an NG911 Funding Model

Mashable reports that the initiative came under way when victims during 2007’s Virginia Tech shooting were unable to text 911 to law enforcement officials. “The shift to NG911 can’t be about if, but about when and how,” says Genachowski. The proposal will be voted on by the commission next month in hopes of expediting its adoption.

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Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.