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UK body calls for text-based emergency service for the digital age

The UK’s Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has called for the creation of a text-based emergency service as young people turn away from voice calling.
Currently, people in the UK must dial 999 to contact the emergency services.
The IET claims that a cross-platform, text-based service would benefit younger users, who are statistically more likely to be victims of crime.
It added that such a service would provide a “silent alarm” system that could be safer than making a call in certain situations, such as during home break-ins or abductions.
The call for change follows a report from UK regulator Ofcom, which revealed that 94 percent of communications by 12-15 year olds was text-based.
Ofcom’s Communications Market Report found that “tech-savvy” teenagers are developing “fundamentally different” communications habits to older generations, with 12-15 year-olds spending just three percent of their communications time making voice calls.
Will Stewart, of IET’s Communications Policy Panel, said: “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.”
In Europe, there is already a text-based system for disabled users. However, Stewart pointed out that this requires registration and is very small in scale compared to what the IET is proposing.
According to the trade body, the main engineering challenge would be to set up priority routing of alerts in order to avoid delays at busy times.
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