On Nov. 14, at the Lancaster Police Department, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, accompanied by Lancaster Police Chief Gerald Gill, announced she will soon introduce new legislation that will enhance 9-1-1 communications systems, including texting capabilities of call centers.
"In an emergency, Americans reach out to 9-1-1 for help, but sometimes they're not able to make a phone call; that's why we must update our 9-1-1 call centers to receive text messages," said Congresswoman Hochul. "Think about the different situations where a call can't be made, like a burglary or when you're physically incapable of making a call, or even when your cell phone battery is about to die. A short text message could get the pertinent information to the authorities quickly and quietly. My bill will provide the necessary resources to communities that need the upgrades to their call centers to accept text messages."
Congresswoman Hochul's legislation will require the Federal Communications Commission to mandate wireless phone carriers to send a universal error message to consumers who unsuccessfully send text messages to 9-1-1. This would also require the Department of Homeland Security, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to dedicate at least 10% of existing emergency communications grants to Next Generation 9-1-1 upgrades for Public Safety Answering Points.
While some phone carriers have voluntarily started replying to 9-1-1 texts with error messages, there is currently no existing law requiring wireless phone carriers to send these messages. According to the Pew Center, more than 7 out of 10 cell phones users send or receive text messages, making this legislation even more useful to a majority of Americans.