The Alexandria Police Department Communications Center is running an internal pilot project to test the ability of its 911 center to accept text messages, video and photos, said Deputy Chief Eddie Reyes.
Reyes spoke Wednesday at the GovSec 2011 conference, a gathering of more than 6,000 law enforcement, military, government and private companies in the District. Reyes spoke about how the city’s police department uses technology now and what future resources would assist in fighting crime.

The department worked with Verizon to set up the pilot project, which is allowing staff to send in text messages and photos on a very limited basis to see how the call center would handle the data.

Those trials are completely separate from the agency’s normal handling of 911 calls, Reyes said.

“Right now it’s not out to the public because we’re not equipped to take it on yet,” Reyes said. “We’re talking about a matter of life and death when people start sending that information in, and we would never want to release it until we were fully satisfied.”

The 911 emergency number is now 43 years old. While consumers can instantly text friends, share videos and shoot photos from their smart phones over IP networks,  911 only still handles voice calls.

“Today’s 911 system still doesn’t support the communication tools of tomorrow. No texts to 911. No pictures. No video. There’s no excuse. We have to change, “ said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, a former EMT, during his keynote speech at a Tuesday night awards event hosted by the nonprofit E9-1-1 institute.

The issue is commonly known as “Next Gen9-1-1.”  This week hundreds of members of the National Emergency Number Association   – made up of emergency dispatchers and other public safety officials from around the country – met with members of the Congressional NextGen9-1-1 caucus and federal officials to press for a faster transition to digital 911.

To get there, the group asked Congress to consider legislation that would create federal grants for states to pay for the 911 upgrades. Also, the advocates want federal legislators to jumpstart the national office that was coordinating 911 upgrade efforts with new funding.

A team of dispatchers from the city of Alexandria were also honored Tuesday night by the institute for quickly coordinating more than 30 officers and alerting nearby citizens on July 28, 2010 when an armed carjacking suspect ran into City Hall.