FCC mulls safeguards for 911 texts

Emergency help might soon be a text message away.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is defining and expanding its 2011 plan to allow cellphone users to text 911 for emergency help.

“As technology and consumer habits evolve, consumer expectations also change and the need to meet those expectations in times of emergency must also evolve,” the agency said.

The FCC is seeking more input from wireless carriers as it tries to ensure the system is reliable. One proposed safeguard is a bounce-back message that would confirm a text for help was received.

Wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile announced last month that they would work with the FCC to begin the rollout of the emergency system, with a goal of finishing it by May 15, 2014.

Barbara Jaeger, the president of the National Emergency Number Association, said in December that the agreement of mobile carriers to provide the service “demonstrates the shared commitment of parties to serve the evolving needs of citizens in the digital age.”

The FCC and the major carriers plan to work together on a consumer education program to teach people how and when they can send the 911 messages. The agency is also open to developing other forms of mobile-based emergency assistance, including apps.

Comments from 4G Americas, CTIA, Motorola and other wireless companies questioned the reliability of text messages in the pilot program, but studies cited by the FCC indicate that texts might be even more useful in areas where reception for phone calls is sporadic.

Intrado, a company that facilitates emergency and 911 communications and equipment, completed a study that found that 90 percent of the text messages sent to an emergency response center “were delivered in three to four seconds.”

The FCC is seeking additional comment on how to improve and implement the system.

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. The Department of Defense (DOD), the General Services Administration (GSA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have several rules pending that attempt to keep agency information under wraps.
DOD, in particular, has stringent regulations in the works that aim to keep private defense contractors from sharing sensitive information.

The three agencies are also crafting a slew of regulations regarding the training, conduct and payment of private security contractors stationed abroad.

FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION. The Food and Drug Administration plans to examine over-the-counter drug labeling and the regulation of tobacco products in the coming months. FDA is also finalizing food safety prevention rules, including ones to establish quality control for baby formula.

ELSEWHERE. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau intends to begin establishing requirements for financial institutions to collect and report the loan application information of minority- and female-owned small businesses. The agency does not have a timeline for completing the rules.

• The Department of the Interior is pursuing regulations to ensure that oil and gas excavation from National Wildlife refuges would “minimize damage” to the environment.

• The Department of Education announced it plans to finalize Pell Grant award reforms that would disqualify a student from receiving two grants in one award year.