US FCC wants incentives for states to adopt Next Generation 911

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 27, 2013 5:50pm EST

WASHINGTON Feb 27 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators want states to compete for federal incentives that would encourage the adoption of a new generation of 911 response systems allowing Americans to send text messages, photos and videos in emergency situations.

The Federal Communications Commission released a report on Wednesday on ways to improve the current 911 emergency systems that largely rely on phone connections.

Those systems showed their limitations during big natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, which caused widespread and lasting power outages and knocked out a small number of 911 call centers.

Congress asked the FCC last year to recommend ways to speed up the transition to so-called Next Generation 911 that rely on Internet technologies and build better and stronger connections with call centers.

The new system, reflecting the widespread adoption of smartphone technology, could help gather information about emergencies through texts, photos or video, among other things.

One of the FCC's proposals suggests that Congress create incentives for state authorities to be early adopters by competing for grants or other funding - a plan resembling the U.S. education improvement program Race to the Top.

The report also recommends updating state and federal regulations to ensure seamless oversight.

(To read the report, please see)

Late last year, four top U.S. mobile companies agreed to set up a system that would allow people to text 911 in cases of emergency. Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile are due to roll out the service by May 15, 2014.

Some 6,100 emergency call centers respond to more than 240 million 911 calls each year in the United States, according to the report.

"Some of the key infrastructure on which the legacy system depends is aging and will become progressively vulnerable if it is not maintained, upgraded, or replaced by newer, more resilient technology," the report said.