The FCC has announced plans to open the 911 emergency system to text messages and even streaming video from cellphones, as part of a drive to increase usability and responsiveness. According to the FCC, the update was in part prompted by lessons learnt after the Virginia Tech campus shooting in 2007, where many people apparently attempted to send SMS messages to 911, messages that were never received.
"The technological limitations of 9-1-1 can have tragic, real-world consequences. During the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting, students and witnesses desperately tried to send texts to 9-1-1 that local dispatchers never received. If these messages had gone through, first responders may have arrived on the scene faster with firsthand intelligence about the life-threatening situation that was unfolding." FCC
The plans also include more complex interaction between 911 systems and various types of automated sensors, such as chemical detectors and alarms. Medical devices and in-car systems including On-Star could also be integrated, allowing for more immediate reports of issues. It's unclear when the FCC expects the new systems to be rolled out.