Emergency 999 text message service should be offered

Emergency services in the UK are failing to embrace digital technology by not offering 999 text message and app services, according to a new report.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)’s ‘Contacting Emergency Services in the Digital Age’ report calls for “radical changes” in the face of increased mobile use. With more people using text messages than phone calls, the IET is urging the emergency services to utilise mobile capabilities for improvements in emergency responses.

This includes implementing a 999 texting service and an emergency app, as well as using GPS location tracking on smartphones, v3.co.uk notes. The report highlights that much of this technology is already available, but that it currently operates in silos rather presenting a holistic view of relevant data.

Professor Will Stewart, chairman of the IET’s Communications Policy Panel, said: “We need a shared, cross-party strategy to create a common and user-friendly interface for all service providers to connect to, and one that the general public will be happy to use.”

In order for this to become standard, the IET recommends that an emergency alert function is uniformly built into all smartphones, and that user interfaces are adjusted so that everyone becomes familiar with how to alert the emergency services.

A staggering 94 per cent of all communications between 12- to 15-year-olds is text-based, according to the report. Because of this, the IET also suggests several possible scenarios where a text message or other mobile service would be particularly useful.

“A girl alone in a mini cab who becomes worried about her personal safety might feel unable to make a call on her mobile phone, but could send a text or alert someone over social media.

“And in the case of certain crimes, such as abduction or a break-in, a silent text or app-based alarm system would be more appropriate and instinctive than the current voice-based one for everybody, irrespective of their age.”