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article imageReport: 999 needs to adapt to the modern world of smartphones

By James Walker     Jul 8, 2015 in Technology
A report has called for Britain's 999 hotline to allow people to report emergencies by texting or using an app. It says this is more applicable to the modern world and could help in cases where sound isn't viable, such as a break-in.
The Institution of Engineering and Technology has led the call for the modernisation of 999. As Engadget reports, the Institute has found that the ability to use instant messaging and social media instead of the traditional voice call could allow faster and more appropriate responses to emergencies, saving more lives.
The IET's report found people now use these newer communication methods more than traditional voice calls. It concluded that calling the emergency services may not feel natural to some people, particularly the younger generation who are statistically more vulnerable.
A proposal has now been made for emergency call centres to develop an advanced system capable of handling several different kinds of reports, including those from texts and apps. It would be able to automatically scan texts to find relevant information and rank the reports by priority.
The report also says the emergency services should take more advantage of the sensors and features built-in to modern smartphones. By communicating directly with the phone, operators could view a person's location from the device's GPS signal or even gain more insight into what is happening by activating the camera or microphone.
Professor Will Stewart, chairman of the IET's communications policy panel, explained: "Your smartphone knows a lot of useful stuff. Firstly, your location, secondly perhaps just listening to what's going on, activating your camera and looking at what's going on. If you're in a distressed situation, the operator would be much better able to decide what your problem was than she was just listening to you sounding confused and distressed."
Providing alternative forms of communication with the emergency services could also make it much easier for people to report crime, especially in cases where talking to a person and making sound could further endanger the person at risk. Most people would refrain from calling the police if an intruder was in their house for fear of alerting them to their presence, but being able to send a text would make it possible to get assistance while still remaining safe.
Professor Stewart notes: "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."
The next steps in creating such a system are already being planned out. The IET is bringing together representatives from the UK Government, emergency services, BT, Ofcom and the mobile phone networks to create a unified plan capable of modernising the UK's emergency services so that more lives can be saved in the future.
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