Consumers will be able to text and send multimedia messages to 9-1-1 emergency call centers under a new plan from the top communications regulator.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled a plan on Wednesday to help emergency response communications catch up to the technically advanced mobile devices people use everyday.
"It's hard to imagine that airlines can send text messages if your flight is delayed, but you can't send a text message to 9-1-1 in an emergency," Genachowski said.
The FCC is expected to propose rules in September that will address the technical issues behind enabling text, photo and video transmissions to 9-1-1.
Of particular concern to the agency will be ensuring that the country's broadband infrastructure can handle the bandwidth that new public safety answering points will need.
An FCC official said widespread next-generation 9-1-1 services could be available in the next five to 10 years if the FCC acts and adequate funding is made available for equipment upgrades.
The FCC is also looking at ways to more quickly get the texting component operational.
Next-generation 9-1-1 services will allow first responders to better assess emergencies with the ability to see photos and videos of an accident while still enroute. The IP-based infrastructure will also bring more reliability to the 9-1-1 network compared with the current circuit-switched system.