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Calling 999 feels 'unnatural' to smartphone generation

People could be able to text for 999 assistance

Younger teenagers are so used to texting that making a 999 call would not feel “natural” to them, experts say.

To solve this problem and make 999 more accessible to the smartphone generation, there should be a text alert system and apps, according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) report Contacting Emergency Services In The Digital Age.

It said the need to update is “critical” as communications have undergone major changes since the 999 service was designed more than seven decades ago.

Latest Ofcom figures show the majority of communications by 12 to 15-year-olds are text-based.

Professor Will Stewart, chairman of the IET’s Communications Policy Panel, said there is a concern that making a 999 call is not something that would feel “natural” for this age group.

Any changes wouldn’t just benefit younger people – there are instances when it would be more appropriate to send a message than make a call, Stewart said.

“A girl alone in a minicab 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,” he said.

“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 IET said prioritising alerts would be the “main engineering challenge” to avoid delays at busy times.

GPS technology could allow emergency services to collect any available information about a user’s location. The seriousness of a threat could be informed by a scan of the messages for keywords like “SOS”, the report said.

It is important that agencies work together on a new strategy, Stewart added.

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