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911 Technology Lags; Upgrading Will Cost Billions

April 24, 2011 09:03:00 am

The growth of technology has left 911 behind, says the Washington Post. People can send a text to vote for the next American Idol, but they can’t send one to report the East Coast Rapist. Modernizing 911 has taken on renewed urgency as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks approaches, but actual progress is slow and could be years away in many places.

Federal and local officials acknowledge the need to modernize 911 calls, and they have taken small steps to digitize, but there are no plans in place for how to pay the billions of dollars the upgrade will cost and no timetable has been set. “The thinking is, ‘I can text almost everyone — why can’t I text 911?’ ” said Jeffrey Horwitz of the Arlington County, Va., emergency communications center, which has completed a $38 million upgrade in anticipation of moving to a digital 911 network. “We need to evolve as the technology evolves.” Consumer expectation has already outpaced 911 capabilities. When Verizon Wireless customers send a text message to 911, they get this reply: “Please make a voice call to 911.” Other simple actions, including sending 911 a smartphone photo of a car speeding from a robbery, are also impossible. about 70 percent of the 240 million 911 calls each year come from wireless phones, says the Virginia-based National Emergency Number Association.

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