back to article Ditch crappy landlines and start reading Twitter, 999 call centres told

The emergency 999 call system needs a radical digital shake-up to incorporate text and social media responses, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has said in a report today (July 8). The report, Contacting Emergency Services in the Digital Age, recommends the blue light services move away from landlines to …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course..

    they could always teach the pups to talk.

    1. Richard Jones 1

      Re: Of course..

      Text is at best some form of best effort with no proof that it has succeeded in getting through and can suffer delays of several hours.

      I have enough reasons not to use a money waster phone, am I now to be blackmailed into using one of those otherwise pointless (for me) device 'in case' I might need to call 999?

      As an also option it might be of some value, if it can ever be made to work. History suggests that getting reliable operation might be a challenge of greater than usual proportions.

  2. Haku

    Obligatory IT Crowd reference: (with appropriate post icon)

  3. Lionel Baden

    all well and good

    It fine to have the technical ability to access these services via txt or other means, But there is always so much missing information in a txt compared to a phone call, even just background noise that tells the operator so much!

    1. Skoorb

      Re: all well and good

      You can already send text messages to 999 and have been able to for a few years. But for some reason you are supposed to register your phone first...

      1. Lionel Baden

        Re: all well and good

        useful for the deaf and dumb I would suppose :)

  4. Velv Silver badge

    "it is a concern that making a voice call to contact the emergency services is not something that would feel natural to them."

    Having been in the unfortunate position of calling the emergency services a couple of times, it is not something that feels natural to anyone. ITS AN EMERGENCY ffs. Adrenalin is pumping and you're probably trying to do three or four things at once.

    1. Jason 24

      "it is a concern that making a voice call to contact the emergency services is not something that would feel natural to them."

      The gf won't even ring a damn take way, so it inevitably leads to me basically relaying the order and having to correct everything twice as she changes her mind.

      So yeah, I can see this being an issue of not feeling "natural", particularly for people even younger than me (26) who have possibly never had to make an actual call in their lives.

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      it is not something that feels natural to anyone. ITS AN EMERGENCY ffs.

      I've always thought that the standard 'which service do you require?' doesn't help. If you in a vehicle crash and can see bodies and people trapped in wrecks and someone asks you what service you need which are you going to pick?

      I know that they coordinate so 'pick any of the ones you want' ought to be enough but still, in the heat of the moment it's a somewhat confusing question.

      1. Sir Gaz of Laz

        Many (feels like hundreds) years ago I worked on the 999/100 service and came up against this scenario often. If the caller was flustered and didn't know what to pick - or simply tried to hang up - they were connected to the police, where we would give as much information about the incident as we could. If they chose a service that was not correct, then that service would either a)connect them to the correct one (this was force area specific) or b) alert us (the initial 999 operator) to connect the caller to another service.

        If an incident required more than on emergency service, the one that got the initial call co-ordinated getting the others there too.

      2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        If you in a vehicle crash and can see bodies and people trapped in wrecks and someone asks you what service you need which are you going to pick?

        It can be a confusing question, always stalls me for a second, probably my brain parsing "don't say something sarcastic".

        I plump for "ambulance" then they are on the way and I can tell them to send the fire brigade if needed. The police always seem to turn up at an accident or any incident so guess it just pops up on their RSS feed (or equivalent) and they dispatch someone, if for no other reason than to marshal traffic.

        One tip I have is to always carry one of those cotton hi-vis waistcoats in the car. Drivers will be more inclined to let you control traffic flow round / past an accident than if you try without. And it's safer.

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          As a First Aider who has been on the scene of several life and death emergencies, I'd actually like to be able to text to avoid speaking to a call handler, as they can be the single most serious detriment to keeping a person alive. You think a first line helpdesk is bad when your calling about a parts failure on a server? Try doing it for an ambulance.

          The last time I walked into a serious emergency was outside a pub on the route to my lunchtime haunt. The guy had been on heart medication which reacts quite badly (ie: cardiac arrest) to alchol and evidently had neither read the leaflet in the packet or listened to the doctor telling him not to drink.

          Another First Aider was on scene, but had made the fatal mistake of being the person to make the call to 999. He ended up talking to a chatterbox who was obsessed with the importance of filling in the ethnic diversity form part of her script (i'm not joking) and thus distracted said first aider from an little important fundemental. The blokes mates were holding the casualty upright against a wall with his head hanging forwards, and thus blocking his airway which was preventing him from breathing, something a mite more important to the patient than the diversity form the first aider was being occupied filling out. This was easily discernable by the fact the casualty wasn't breathing and was turning an unhealthy colour.

          I promptly took charge and curtly commanded his mates to put him in the recovery position so I could clear his airway, at which point the call centre girl, incensed at somebody having the temerity to pay attention to the patient without following the script demanded to speak to me to make sure the "collecting details" section of the script was filled out properly before getting to the "troubleshooting" part (ie: treating the casualty). At this point I swapped with the other First Aider and just kept moving through the script using the bullshitting skills developed dealing with indian call centres.

          Frankly though, I suspect that this particular chap is either brain damaged by lack of oxygen if he's lucky or dead if not- a situation directly attritutable to said call handler and the management who decided it was appropriate to put an ITIL like proceedure in place complete with (un)trained chimps FOR A FUCKING AMBULANCE.

          Even at the end of the call, "oh, sorry we can't just end the call when the ambulance has arrived, we end the call when A) they are out of the ambulance, B) Wearing their uniform jacket, C) with the equipment". This does irritate me a bit. It's stressful enough attempting to recover a body from the well known clinical condition of "death" without having to deal with a script based call centre, and collecting information for management/political reports could perhaps be a bit less intrusive and take a back seat to making sure that the casualty lives?

          This said, some of the call centre gils have been almost accepting that CPR/AV requires both hands and it's not easy to do while holding a phone, and have somewhat graciously just given useful bits of informantion like the correct CPR/AV ratios through a bemused spectator coopted by literially having a phone chucked at them.

          But yes, text would be an improvement on voice if it skips the call centre farce and I dare say that it could (perhaps drastically) increase the casualty survival rate where the casualty is actually in danger of death. Or maybe i'm just unlucky with the people I get when I end up speaking to 999. But if the paramedics have to score 100% in tests to be on ambulance crew because failure is unacceptable then you'd hope the same standards are applied to the 999 call centre staff...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            That anecdote sounds absolutely horrible... Now consider trying to do that through texts, Twitter, Facebook or email. At least with a phone, you might be able to use a headset, but if you're being distracted that much by the twit on the other end, then the best solution really is to chuck the phone at a bemused spectator.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              I'm considering it, and thinking it sounds like heavenly bliss. The first time I dealt with a serious accident was a kid who ran in front of a car, was smashed through the windscreen before the driver reflexively jammed the brakes as hard as they'd go, and while the car decelerated quickly and safely the kid didn't. This was around 2000 and before everybody carried a mobile.

              Back then you just ordered several older bystanders (ageist, but less likely to be taken for a prank call than a teenager...) to phone for an ambulance and make sure that they went in different directions for redundancy. Then all you had to do was deal with the incident.

              Now you have to deal with the incident, plus a call centre script. In my humble opinion, the old days were better. Certainly less stressful, in an enviroment that does really not need additional stress.

              If I simply co-opt a bystander into helping by dictating this as a text or whatever then it'd convey all of the required information.

              "Ambulance required. Casualty unconcious, not breathing, no discernable heartbeat. Location: outside Red Vulture pub, London. First Aider on scene."

              Or you could have the call centre script as an App that pulls your location from GPS if available or asks if not.

          2. F0rdPrefect

            Having had to call 999 to get an ambulance (18 months ago) for my collapsed son (the day after he was discharged from hospital having had major brain surgery) I have to say my experience was the opposite to yours.

            Brief questions to confirm that an ambulance was needed, and then after taking our address, talking me through checking airways and some other bits while we waited for the ambulance.

            At least I knew they had received the message and received it NOW, unlike texts that I have experienced taking over 24 hours to arrive.

            I wouldn't trust text to call a taxi, let alone in for something serious.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              I'm happy (though admittedly slightly bitter...) to hear your experiances have been considerably better than mine.

              It suggests to me that you probably have the great fortune to be covered by a different NHS Ambulance trust to my area. As noted, text is an awful contact method but the fact remains that i'd be delighted with sending a request via text because of my prior experiances.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Adrenalin is pumping and you're probably trying to do three or four things at once.

      I would hate to try and translate a text message made under those conditions as would any of the 999 operators. It would in all probability end up as a useless exercise, even assuming it didn't take a few hours to arrive and you had a signal.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What could possibly go wrong ?

    This has not been thought trough.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      Quite the opposite! They are properly and responsibly preparing us for a future where we won't have landlines at all, because wifi, tablets and smartphones are good enough, and the rest is, like, really boring and old and stuff and nobody they know uses that anymore, so we should just, like, get with the program and stop holding up the future!

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Hmmm

        They've already worked out how to call 999/911 on a phone. I can see why texting them might be useful - if you were hiding in your closet with an intruder already in your home it would allow you to silently call for help. But even that I think is unnecessary - calling 911 in the US and saying nothing works...they'll send police/ambulance over since they assume you're in distress.

        But why the fuck would anyone tweet that they need help? What would happen is that idiots from 4chan would delight in sending tweets asking for help using hacked PCs (for the geolocation information, and to hide their identity) so it would have about a 99.99% false positive rate. Much harder to spoof a phone call, whether landline or cell.

  6. Tomato42 Silver badge


    Can we get people that know what they are talking about and not just ones that want to be "hip"?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    For the nay sayers...

    there may be times when someone is trying to be quiet (maybe a burglar in the house) and they don't want to alert someone to their presence, a txt could be the answer.

    Other times, a photo is worth a thousand words.

    Car crash? Photo of scene + GPS. Far more useful than, errm I'm on a road, I can see a church and some cows.

    They are not on about removing phones, but supplementing them, really common practice these days in contact centres. That webchat you did,that twitter or facebook response you received, the email you sent and got a response to, is very often is done by the phone system front end, not individual applications.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For the nay sayers...

      They have enough problems with moronic 999 callers, imagine the deluge of crap landing if it's fully wired up. Sorry we took 7 hours to send an ambulance we were busy deleting the spam and pictures of cats first.

      As I said above, this has not been thought through.

    2. Peter 26

      Re: For the nay sayers...

      Imagine the future:

      You're at the scene of an accident and phone the emergency services. They take the basic details and send you a text message with a link to the apple/play store to install an app. As soon as you open the app you can record a live stream or take pictures which the person on the other side of the line can see and hear.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: For the nay sayers...


        It's a solution looking for a problem. The idea is to get the emergency services professionals there ASAP and not to spend 30 mins pissing about with something useful as an internet connected egg timer. I'd rather they spent the money on something useful such as extra ambulances, fire engines or police.

        It's an emergency !

      2. Irongut

        Re: For the nay sayers... @Peter 26

        If I was at the scene of an accident, called 999 and they told me to install an app I'd tell them I've done my part, now its their job and hang up. They already do their best to spy on my every move, why would I make that easier for them?

        Not to mention your scenario is wrong...

        Imagine the future:

        You're at the scene of an accident and phone the emergency services. They take the basic details and send you a text message with a link to the apple/play store to install an app. You can't get a reliable data connection due to poor reception and have to try downloading 5 times before the app installs. The app hangs when you open it because it isn't compatible with the current version of iOS / Android. You have to reboot your phone. While all this happens the person on the other side of the line is having to do basic tech support despite having no IT training. The people involved in the accident have now died.

        1. Peter 26

          Re: For the nay sayers... @Peter 26

          Haha, maybe true... But if it was just going to be a case of hangup as there is nothing more to say, then maybe a picture would be helpful? If they can't figure it out, nothing is lost anyway.

          What they could setup right away is send a picture to an email address. Then they get the geodata out of it and find all pics from a certain radius with the last 10 minutes...

          Anyway my ideas may be crap, but I'm sure there some good ideas out there somewhere.

          1. Cynical Observer

            Re: For the nay sayers... @Peter 26


            My but we don't give a toss about our privacy do we..... One of the first things turned of when I launched the camera on my phone.

            Besides - they can pull geo info from the cell towers if you're on a mobile - at least good enough to get within a meaningful radius

            Why anyone would want to use a connectionless mode of data transfer (on a macro level at least) to transfer life and death information beggars belief

      3. Richard Jones 1

        Re: For the nay sayers...@Peter 26

        And just how easy is it to link to an apple/play store thing and install it on a mobile phone? Now try it on a Nokia 6230i. I use it because 'modern' toys cannot do what I need.

        I have no ability to even send a rubbish picture, so would first need someone to set that up, before I could even use this retrograde idea.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For the nay sayers...

      "Car crash? Photo of scene + GPS. Far more useful than, errm I'm on a road, I can see a church and some cows."

      In many locations in this country it'd take a week to send the photo given the deplorable and patchy coverage for data services (never mind a signal at all). Not to mention that the MNO's seem to mislay some electronic messages so that they sometimes take hours and even days to arrive.

      The emergency services will have their work cut out with the replacement of Airwave, not to mention the flood of garbage alerts that ecall will result in. Adding some social media interface for the hard of thinking is a pointless distraction.

      If the yoof of today can't operate a phone and place a voice call, let Darwin take care of 'em, and we'll all be better off.

    4. Esme

      Re: For the nay sayers...

      +1 from me for that. Yes, I can see teh problems - but having woken in the wee hours to find a peculiar noise emanating from the front door of my not terribly large flat some months back, it would have been nice to at least have the option to try texting the police rather than making the call which scared the would-be burglar away. I wanted the bugger caught, not allowed to scarper to try another day!

  8. Voland's right hand Silver badge


    So for an emergency response we are now going to rely on a company with ZERO European presence, not compliant to Eu laws and in no way required to provide even a modicum of resiliency for cases of major emergency.

    Whataboy. How much whalesong did they consume before suggesting this?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Fantastic

      Don't forget the QoS that contacting the emergency services requires.

    2. paulf Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Fantastic

      Upvoted simply for the comment

      "How much whalesong did they consume before suggesting this?"

      I must remember that for my next meeting that involves hipsters (thankfully few and far between)

  9. Ben Tasker Silver badge

    The report, Contacting Emergency Services in the Digital Age, recommends the blue light services move away from landlines to smart phones, and from voice to data.

    No it doesn't.

    It says emergency services should be able to make use of the potential benefits smart phones (and TVs, vehicles etc) bring to the table. At no point does it recommend the existing voice capability be ditched, because that would be fucking stupid.

    In the context of "how can we try and improve services/response" what they're saying makes sense once you understand the plan isn't to stop 999 calls from working.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes agreed, but the media have been all over this saying that text isn't as good as voice for getting information. Well here's the clincher it doesn't replace voice at all. Everyone who is dire emergency and can call, will call - it's just easier and safer.

      Those that are in a precarious situation (such as the back of a cab that starts driving the wrong direction towards a deserted woods) might be safer sending a text.

      There is a lot of talk about costs to set this up and how it would be difficult. Well believe it or not there is already a text to 999 system up and running. It is designed for those who have difficulty in making a call (deaf/dumb etc) but anyone can register for it and use it if they wish (you have to pre-register). The advantage is that like a 112/999 call it will use any available network.

      Now I work for a search and rescue organisation (so also a 999 service). Texts can be very handy as sometimes there isn't a great signal in the 'middle of nowhere'. A text needs a momentary signal to get through and can keep trying while out of range. Not perfect at all because you might just end up with a text of "help I'm lost". However from that you have a phone number and can triangulate their position. Although not *that* accurate when combined with topography you can sometimes make a reasonable assumption.

      What would be useful is the other recommendation, that the location is sent automatically via GPS (if available) during an emergency call. We often get calls and the person either doesn't know where they are or thinks they are somewhere that they aren't. It wastes* a lot of time and manpower. We can use a very good piece of kit where the user is sent a text message with a link that they click on, this loads a webpage which requests the user's location and automatically sends it through to the requesting team when they click on it ( The issue is it needs a data connection (to load the web page). If this location could automatically be sent when someone dials or texts 999/112 to the operator it would be great.

      *I don't mean the casualty/victim is wasting time, just the scenario wastes time and therefore help cannot get to them as quickly as we would like.

  10. Pete 2

    Just don't add LOL

    Tweets are fine for conveying factual information in one direction if you don't require an immediate response - or any response at all. However I would assume that the emergency services would usually like a bit more information than can be packed into such a short message - and that the additional information would depend a lot on the circumstances of the emergency.

    And then we have the question of how, exactly would you report a fire in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (or even it's abbreviated form: Llanfairpwllgwyngyll) if you spell it wrong and the tweet-operator, possibly outsourced and completely unfamiliar with Anglesey and tries to Google the place you're talking about? Or, worse: your spell checker "autocorrects" your location and sends the emergency services somewhere completely different.

    Personally, on the few occasions I've called for emergency assistance, the reassurance that there is actually someone there is very reassuring. To simply fire off a tweet and maybe (or not) get a response sometime doesn't seem very helpful.

  11. Graham Marsden

    Dear children...

    ... if there is a fire or similar emergency:

    1) Get out of the building

    2) Phone 999

    3) THEN you can post it on social media...!

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Dear children...

      You forgot

      0) Do not try to take a selfie with the fire

      1. Graham Marsden

        @Voland's right hand - Re: Dear children...

        Damn, I'm really not "down wiv da yoof" am I?

  12. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Anniversary of 7/7 - in the aftermath the mobile network was shutdown so only 'special' SIMs worked (ie emergency services), general public had no service for the entire day. This is still the modus operandi I believe so how would mobile,text or twitter help in similar cases?

    1. Clive Galway
  13. David Roberts

    Emergency calls only?

    Mobile systems have to suport emergency calls from handsets with other providers. All very sensible.

    Will they have to extemd this to emergency calls, texts, tweets, and Facebook postings?

    Agreed that being able to send GPS and photo data to supplement an emergency call sounds like a good thing if you can filter out the SPAM and DDOS attacks.

    This looks non-trivial to implement securely, though.

  14. BernardL

    Text yes, it might be useful in certain circumstances. Easy to do; expand the existing system for people with speaking difficulties.

    Social media? Don't be daft! I don't want my call for help "mediated" by a content-free ad network that might decide to send an ad for Farmville instead. i want the medssage delivered, immediately, and not through Utah or somewhere.

    Dear 12yo: if you need help call 112. That's what they're there for.

    Here's a question... why don't we teach people to use text in a major incident* like a bombing? It's much more likely to get through than a voice call.

    * bearing in mind that the network will probably either be damaged, throttled for Plod, or overloaded.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Could they not

    Just have a facebook profile and "like" your emergency?

  16. Rusty 1

    Asynchronous and unacknowledged

    The elephant in the room with all of this is that these alternative communication mechanisms are inherently asynchronous and there is no acknowledgment of receipt, or any other feedback.

    Your text about someone having a heart attack may well be queued in the mobile network behind Mavis letting Doris from number 34 know that Ethel's cat has died.

    If something bad has happened, I want to know that someone is on the motherfucker, that I can chill, and the Wolf will be here directly.

  17. Tsung

    Going to state the bleeding obvious here..

    Why not make it an app?

    Make it part of the default phone install so it cannot be removed by un-installing it (contract phones), and available for free from all the stores.

    Emergency services app., select it, select service required, it could send GPS -> Mobile Number -> other details directly to the call handler. Connects to call handler via best connection method available. Added advantage, it could connect to the right service depending on the country the phone is in.

    Location + mobile details would be known so any abuse could be handled swiftly. Seems obvious, rather than relying on a txt / twit or facebook message.

    1. Rusty 1

      Re: Going to state the bleeding obvious here..

      And you'll probably want the app to support reporting poor parking, avoidance of train fares, putting feet on the seats, chewing gum in an antisocial manner, not smiling at other citizens, wearing double denim, not supporting the government in power, generally being an arse, and not using the Oxford comma.

      You seriously suggest that this whole issue could be resolved with an "app"? I don't know you, but I think you don't really understand how things work. Today you can call 999, 112, 911 depending on your location (which generally doesn't change without your consent - but you're stuffed then anyway). "Apps" have nothing to do with this. Do you really want to be in a situation where you are trying to report a fire in your building, that will result in the death of you and your family, with a request to download the new app that enables you to describe the personal impact from a scale of 1 to 7: it's a new version, with a new protocol, sorry, you have to upgrade.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Going to state the bleeding obvious here..

      Make sure it has a scary icon!

  18. Will 20

    Text / Social Media could be a way of scouping up non-urgent jobs, but anything requiring a flash priority response, needs to be bi-directional call. If you can side channel gps/video, that's great as well, but you really need to be able to get the specific details quickly, provide advice, and give dynamic updates to the people responding to the call.

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Mr Humbug

    SMS QoS and delivery

    I'm sure they will also consider, when deciding what to do with SMS, that the protocol doesn't have a way to ensure timely delivery of a message. Nor does it ensure the message is actually delivered. And text messages are more likely to be delayed or dropped when the mobile network is busy (perhaps because lots of people are using it during an emergency).

  21. hatti

    SMS protocol

    So future protocol if your leg falls off is not to reach for the blower and dial 999

    Just txt OMFGMLJFO and hit send?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Utter madness.

    1. SMS is delivered as best effort - so is email. So you have no idea whether the message you sent has been received and/or read.

    2. There are (if memory serves) 43 regional police forces in England. I've been in the control rooms of fourteen of those, so I think I know a little about this. The systems they use cost MILLIONS to install and maintain. Getting those systems updated to talk to Facebook and Twitter would take a decade at best and cost yet more millions.

    3. What's the point?

    Just dial 112, that way you've got a two way dialogue and the operator can deal with the issue.

    4. EU Directive E112 (2003) requires mobile phone networks to provide emergency services with whatever information they have about the location a mobile call was made.

  23. David Nash Silver badge

    What are they thinking?

    Are they just trying to appeal to yoof? Everyone knows about 999 (or your local equivalent) it is stupid to say kids can only text or even worse, tweet. In a real emergency I am sure even the coolest social media user would rather have some authority figure on the end of a phone line.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ditch Crappy Landlines?

    Did the report really say that? What a totally brain dead and stupid thing to say.

  25. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Txt vs voice

    Anyone who has to communicate with the young people who don't do voice calls will be familiar with the scenario where an exchange that would have taken 30 sec on a voice call takes 30 min of txt exchanges.

    -> Where are you?

    <- out

    -> Out where?

    <- cmbrdg

    -> What time will you be home?

    <- l8r

    -> Do you want supper?

    <- mb


  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mobile phone location....

    are already triangulated from the initial call. No need for app for that......

    1. Nifty

      Re: Mobile phone location....

      Landline, since it was invented - they know the exact address of the emergency (exception - company numbers).

      Mobile - triangulated - within 500m. With GPS - 10m. Trouble is, no-one thought to put any technology in place to easily send the GPS coords to the emergency centre.

  27. Dave Bell

    When a headline says "999 calls" I think of members of the public, maybe in some distress from what they are witnessing, calling for help. I am thinking of a two-way conversation in which a skilled member of staff at a dedicated call centre calms the desperate, elicits the information to send aid, and passes the information on to the appropriate emergency service.

    This article seems to be about what happens next, the imformations flow between the professionals involved.

    I have been in some bad situations myself. The thought that my life and health might depend on a frantic tweet from a member of the public is not reassuring.

    I would have words with your headline writer.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This proposal from the Institution of Engineering and Technology has all the appearances that it was put together by the Technology section without any input from the Engineers. At least I hope that is the case because if the engineers had any input into it then I question their engineering ability.

    Engineers should know that mobile communications are subject to wireless limitations for range and reliability. They should also know that there is not universal coverage for mobiles in any country whereas land lines, unless they have been damaged and broken, will work - they might not have the highest fidelity but they do work.

  29. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    The've got this in Iowa

    They've got this in Iowa, at one 911 call center (that's 999 equivalent in the US.) I don't know how much it's been used, but I can see the use of it. Expecting it to REPLACE landlines is stupid, but as a supplement? Sure.

    First, people have listed how much trouble there'd be with non-understandable texts. True, I have a physical keyboard on my phone, but the onscreen ones are (IMHO) utter crap. BUT, you ignore the problem of noise. Three examples that immediately come to mind -- Along the highway, if you crashed or some other emergency arose, it's generally far too noisy to make a voice call (especially with the semis -- lorries -- going along). Second, fire alarm -- I have not seen a single fire alarm where there'd be any chance of being able to get a single word through on a call. Third, parties -- I don't know if people passing out at raves or concerts is really that common, but it'd be easier to text about it than to call.

    Of course, people apparently make prank calls to 911 too. They are harshly penalized. So, just make it clear texting 911 as a prank will be penalized and I don't think people will go around doing it just because it's a text or tweet.

  30. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Done and done.

    "Mobile - triangulated - within 500m. With GPS - 10m. Trouble is, no-one thought to put any technology in place to easily send the GPS coords to the emergency centre."

    They've done that in the US since the late 1990s. For 911 calls. It relies on some phone firmware (with emergency numbers hard-coded in AFAIK) so it won't do it for texts though.

  31. Mike Banahan

    Opportunity missed in GSM?

    Looking at the comments above it does seem that an opportunity has been missed in GSM for an emergency call type. By contrast, modern VHF ship radios have an integrated Digital Selective Calling feature with specific emergency call abilities. Press the big red button on the set and a digital Mayday message gets sent along with the unique MMSI number of the vessel and the GPS coordinates (as long as the radio is connected to a working GPS receiver). It's a broadcast message so everyone within range gets alerted with the relevant details - in general you hope that the Coastguard get it but if they don't, the fallback should be to other vessels within range.

    It may be too late now, but if that had been included in the GSM specification, most phones could have had an emergency call facility which one would imagine would also request the cells to do their best to provide location information - either range from the base station, or, if in range of more than one, triangulation.

  32. Sirius Lee

    "House, stop falling down I have to get out my laptop to start my browser, (oh come on Chrome), get to Twitter and then type in a message, Please, just wait a moment."

    *^&!ing stupid advice. Is there any information about the source of this muppets funding? There is a legal obligation on telephonic device manufacturers to make the emergency number available even when the phone is locked. The government spends money making citizens aware of the one, three digit number to call in an emergency. Maybe there are scenarios in which a person in distress has access to a WiFi signal but not a mobile phone signal but surely not many.

  33. Rtbcomp

    If it means improving the response time they should get to a fatal road accident the same day instead of 3 days later.

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