N.H. begins planning 911 system to handle e-mail, photos, texts

By Norma Love
Associated Press / July 6, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — The state’s emergency services director, Bruce Cheney, envisions the day when New Hampshire’s 911 service will catch up with today’s cellular technology and accept text messages, photos, video, and e-mails about crimes and other emergencies.

Cheney has asked the Legislature for permission to use nearly $4 million collected from telephone users for emergency services to prepare New Hampshire for the next generation of 911.

He also has a $1 million federal grant to spend on the project.

“We’re still several years away from a complete upgrade to next generation, partly because even at the federal level decisions haven’t been made about the parameters,’’ he said. “The concept has not been totally fleshed out. New Hampshire is probably ahead of most states.’’

The state’s 911 system began operating in 1995, with technology limited to accepting voice calls for help, Cheney said. About 25,000 people used cellphones at the time, compared with nearly 1 million cellphones in use today.

The failure of 911 systems to keep pace with technology continues to hamper emergency responders around the country.

In several cases in recent years, kidnapping victims have summoned help by surreptitiously sending text messages. Because they could not send directly to 911, they had to use intermediaries.

The uses for the next generation of 911 will go beyond reporting crimes, however.

“We’re looking forward to the day,’’ Cheney said, when someone who comes upon an accident will be able “to send either a picture or video of that accident along with their report of the incident, which should help prepare first responders better to arrive on the scene.’’

Brian Fontes, chief executive of the National Emergency Number Association, said each emergency services operation will be able to tailor applications to fit the state or the community.

The basic upgrade will most likely allow the transmission of text messages, photos, videos, e-mail, and information from driver assistance programs such as OnStar.

Fontes said local networks will also be able to add applications that go beyond a simple map of a city. An example might be showing the water system and available ponds for firefighters to use at a location where a caller is reporting a fire.

In March, the Federal Communications Commission issued its National Broadband Plan, which included a recommendation encouraging 911 upgrades.

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