The Life-Saving Connections of Wireless and 9-1-1

February 16, 2018

Fifty years ago today, Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite placed the first 9-1-1 call from a red rotary phone in Haleyville, Alabama. Since that first phone call, 9-1-1 has become an integral part of emergency services in the United States. It’s one of the first phone numbers we learn and in an age where fewer and fewer of us dial digits to the contacts in our smartphones, it might be one of the few phone numbers many of us remember.

According to the National Emergency Number Association, over 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 each year. In the 1970s, only 26% of the U.S. could connect a 9-1-1 call. Today, 99% of the country can connect to 9-1-1. Wireless telephony has revolutionized so many aspects of our daily lives and calling for help is no exception. Over 80% of calls to 9-1-1 are made from a mobile device.

Communications technology has seen dramatic changes over the last 50 years. But 9-1-1 has remained an important constant. In 1968, mobile devices were the stuff of sci-fi movies. It would have been impossible to predict that in 2018, 95% of Americans would have a smartphone or cell phone in their pocket – and that your wireless phone could be a critical link in an emergency.

For over half of Americans that have cut the landline telephone cord, a mobile phone is their home phone and the only way they may place the most important phone call they’ll ever make.

Like every aspect of the mobile eco-sphere, 9-1-1 is looking to the future. All across the country, public safety answering points are now able to receive more than just calls from a wireless phone. Forty-six states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands report that they are working on the deployment of text-to-911. Over one thousand public safety answering points are already text-capable, with plans for expansion. The four national wireless carriers can receive texts to 9-1-1 and now automatically bounce back a message to ensure accuracy and timeliness of the emergency response. Texts to 9-1-1 are more than just a recognition of the way Americans increasingly use their mobile communications devices. In situations where a phone call could put someone in danger, texting to 9-1-1 could be a true life-saving alternative.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of 9-1-1 and the many lives it has helped save, we know there is more work to be done to strengthen this crucial piece of our public safety net. One important way we can continue to support 9-1-1 is by ending the diversion of fees paid by consumers for 9-1-1 that get used for non-9-1-1 purposes in some states. FCC Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel have called for a halt to this practice. We agree.

Mobile Future looks forward to the many ways that we can work together to harness the power of mobile connectivity to truly deliver next generation 9-1-1.