FCC commissioners are expected to act on a proposal that would explore the technical and policy implications of next-generation 911 systems that would enable emergency calls using communications technologies other than voice phones.

Migrating to next-generation 911 systems that can accept data, photos, text and video messages is critical, because the public has become accustomed to communication over these myriad platforms, said Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau.

“We already know that most of this current generation thinks you can text 911,” Barnett said during an interview.

However, with the exception of some isolated pilots, 911 centers have not migrated to the all-IP architectures and equipment that would allow emergency callers to communicate via non-voice technologies. In a notice of inquiry that likely will be considered by commissioners in December, the FCC hopes to learn about the various opportunities and challenges associated with a proposed migration to NG-911 systems, Barnett said.

Barnett said he believe the notice of inquiry will be broad in scope, seeking comments addressing all aspects of the proposed migration to next-generation 911, including training needs, operational impacts and technical challenges.

Of course, one of the major challenges associated with next-generation 911 is funding the purchase of new equipment and systems to make next-generation 911 a reality, Barnett said.

“It’s a major concern to me and to the FCC how the next generation of 911 gets funded,” he said. “And here’s a fact: there are some places in America that don’t even have the legacy 911 system now. What I do hope is that you’ll have some of those areas going from not having any type of 911 to their first 911 system actually being next-generation broadband 911.”