Urgent Matters

For some things, you just need to hear a voice

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I'm a numbers guy, which is not to say that I'm a math guy. In college, it took me two tries to muddle through differential calculus. Statistics were another matter — I breezed through that course. Maybe that's because I'm such a big baseball fan. Anyone who's seen the movie For Love of the Game knows what I mean. As pitcher Billy Chapel said so astutely, "In baseball, we count everything."

On the other hand, the celebrated American author Mark Twain once opined that "there are lies, there are damned lies, and then there are statistics." The implication is that numbers can be manipulated to get them to say just about anything. I suppose that's true — just think of our nation's political campaigns, and you'll understand what I mean.

Nevertheless, numbers fascinate me, especially when they're compelling. Which is why I sat with rapt attention as Mel Coker, vice president of public safety solutions for AT&T, tossed around a few when she spoke at the recent National Emergency Number Association (NENA) conference in Long Beach, Calif.

Coker was trying to bring some perspective to the almost unfathomable growth of the commercial wireless industry. For instance, the amount of mobile data traffic generated by wireless users in the U.S. today increased 20,000% over the last five years. That's not a typo — she did say 20,000%. To put that into perspective, let's say your morning commute to work took 15 minutes five years ago. At the same growth rate as wireless data is increasing, the commute would take 9 million years today, Coker said.

Here's another fun fact: The average teenager sends and receives more than 3,400 text messages each month, Coker said. In contrast, they only use about 100 voice minutes each month, on average.

So, the world clearly has changed. People don't talk anymore, they type. The expectation is that this dynamic will spawn profound changes in the 911 sector once next-generation technology becomes ubiquitous and public-safety answering points are capable of receiving emergency text calls. Indeed, the fear is that PSAPs quickly will become overwhelmed by such a circumstance.

Not so fast, says Preston Swincher, who spoke during the NENA conference about the challenges that abound when four distinct generations — the so-called Matures, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers (also known as Millennials) — work side by side, which now is occurring for the first time in history. Swincher said that, just because younger people are obsessed with texting, it shouldn't be assumed that they will tap away to make an emergency call. In fact, he thinks exactly the opposite will occur, because there are just some things so important that only a voice on the other end of the line will do — and a 911 call is one of those things.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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