SMS Support in Times of Need

The BBC recently released an article discussing a report stating that the emergency services need to be brought into the digital age, allowing people in need to contact them via text message when phone calls simply aren’t practical. There are a number of situations that we would never want to find ourselves in when the act of calling 999 for help could place us in more danger – domestic abuse, home intruders, abductions or other fears for personal safety. Ahead of our appearance at the Emergency Services Show this September, we thought we’d share our thoughts on this new idea.

Texting for support has been implemented in a number of charities, support organisations and indeed different emergency services around the world, with thousands of people using the service to get the help they need. New Zealand based helpline YouthLine found that 91% of their 80,000 requests for help came via SMS, allowing their young users to use a platform that felt natural to them. They introduced this service a full seven years ago. One of our own clients, Safe at Last, has been using texting to allow vulnerable young children to reach out and seek help for years.

Initiatives from the British Transport Police have seen commuters able to discreetly report crimes on public transport using a text message, allowing them to get help in situations where they might feel too threatened or intimidated to call attention to themselves with a phone call.

Ahead of us, the USA started implementing a Text-to-911 facility across certain areas last year, with the expectation that all mobile providers allow the facility this year. Only those Public Service Access Points who have elected to provide the service currently offer it however, meaning that availability of the service is patchy.

These early steps are important for the UK to see that the ability to text the emergency services could help to make our country that much safer for people to live in. This isn’t the first time the idea has come up – articles were published last year discussing the shift in how people communicate and how our emergency services should reflect this. SMS is an ideal platform, as not only is it in heavy use across the population, particularly among young people, but it is rapidly delivered and opened, meaning that services can react fast.