IET Proposes Text-Based 999 Service

The Institution of Engineering and Technology has proposed a redesign of the emergency 999 call service, to keep it up to date with technology.

Ofcom's recent communications report showed that 94% of communications among users aged 12-15 is now text based - proving that the current voice-based service is no longer the most appropriate solution.

The report stated a text-based service could allow people to text alerts either through an SMS or a smartphone app to a dedicated number, likely to be 999.

The IET said the main challenge they would come across would be to set up priority routing of alerts over the mobile network to the emergency services, to avoid delays at times of peak usage.

Will Stewart, chair of the IET Communications Policy Panel said: "Given this marked societal shift, it would make a lot of sense for young people to be able to contact the emergency services via text. One example would be a girl alone in a minicab who becomes worried about her personal safety.

"She might feel unable to make a call on her mobile phone - but could send a text. This is not mere theory - examples of perhaps-preventable deaths are known.

"Text-based systems lend themselves to automatic handling that could enable alerts to be effectively prioritized before a human operator is needed. This automatic handling could include, for example, checking and passing on any known user information, approximate handset location and any recent issues with the handset, such as if it has been reported stolen.

"It could also check whether the message contains any alert keywords such as 'SOS', and use location and other data available from modern smartphones, resulting in a much more accurate and rapid assessment of the level and nature of the threat involved."

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