Did you realise you can text 999?

Browse through enough local news sites in the US at the moment and you’ll likely come across a few stories on ‘text-to-911′. It’s a new service being slowly rolled out across the country that allows people to text their requests for help in the event of an emergency.

As the Federal Communications Commission’s site explains, text-to-911 is only available in certain areas of the US at present, but the end goal is to make it a national thing that benefits millions of people. The government clearly thinks the idea is worth investment.

Could a similar service be useful here in the UK? Well, you might not have realised, but the option already exists. EmergencySMS was launched back in 2009, with the goal of helping deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people obtain assistance from their local police, ambulance, fire & rescue and coastguard services. The problem is, it hasn’t really been promoted all that well.

As of 2012 – the last time its official website was updated – around 32,000 phones had been registered to use emergencySMS. That might sound like a lot, but when you consider that 999 operators are receiving around 23,000 calls a day, you start noticing all of the untapped potential.

As mentioned already, the service is aimed at people who might struggle to communicate over a standard voice call for disability and health reasons, and that’s by far its most obvious benefit. Beyond this, though, you’ve also got various other beneficiaries.

Shortly after the service launched, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland advised hikers and climbers to register in case they found themselves struggling for reception. Mountain Safety Advisor Heather Morning said: “[The service] is going to be particularly useful for those needing 999 assistance in the hills when mobile reception is poor and there is not enough signal to make a call.”

The same applies if talking out loud would cause someone to be in danger. Police are required to address every abandoned call regardless, but they will be attending with no knowledge of the situation. Were the person in need able to provide details discreetly, it may help officers provide more assistance.

Situations like these occur regularly, but more could be avoided were emergencySMS widely used. Is it time we followed the Americans’ suit and began pushing the service more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.

In the meantime, information on how to register can be found here.