Emergency texting will soon become a reality as the Federal Communications Commission has begun to promote a 9-1-1 texting initiative.

The FCC is calling the initiative Next Generation 9-1-1 and it will allow people to text, send videos and photos via mobile phones to emergency respondents. The Next Generation 9-1-1 initiative is part of the overall National Broadband Plan. Most 9-1-1 call centers do not even have broadband internet services and the plan hopes to change that.

650,000 9-1-1 calls are placed every day.  450,000 of those calls are made from mobile phones. With today's advances in commercial mobile broadband technologies, consumers are using their phones less to make calls and more for texting and sending pictures, F.C.C. Chairman Julius Genachowski said at a press conference announcing the initiative. Even though mobile phones are the device of choice for most 9-1-1 callers, and we primarily use our phones to text, right now, you can't text 9-1-1.

During the press conference, Genachowski remarked how events such as the Virginia Tech tragedy showed the limits of current 9-1-1 technology and the need for an update. In that case, a gunman went on a rampage and killed 32 people. The ability to send a text message might have helped more students and staff get a message to Emergency services, and allowed for critical real-time, on-the-ground information for respondents.

Genachowski said increasing situational awareness is the major benefit of Next Generation 9-1-1. For instance, the technology would allow for a caller to transmit a photo of a car leaving the scene of an armed robbery. The technology, he said, also could be operated by more than just humans.

Next-Generation 9-1-1 will enable emergency calls to be placed by devices, rather than just human beings.  Examples of such devices include environmental sensors capable of detecting chemicals, highway cameras, security cameras, alarms, personal medical devices, and consumer electronics in automobiles, Genachowski said.

To get the ball rolling, Genachowski called on lawmakers, communication service providers and equipment manufacturers to develop a framework for Next Generation 9-1-1. He said the F.C.C. will begin proceedings on developing this framework next month.