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Texting the emergency services: how, when and why?

ByEllie-Jo Johnstone

Oct 14, 2019

When you dial 999, the operator will ask you which emergency service you require, before redirecting you to the right department. If the caller is unable to speak, the operator will often ask them to make an audible sound, a cough or a knock etc. These signals help notify the operator that you are in danger and they will then send officers to your location.

However; in certain situations, it may not be safe for a caller to talk aloud, or make any audible sound for that matter, as this could provide a potential attacker with the whereabouts of those who are in danger. The emergency services simply do not have the time and the resources to investigate every single call made to 999 in which the situation is not explained by the caller. Alternatively, in today’s technological society, there are many safer and more effective solutions that should be used if you are unable to talk.

These services can aid not only those in danger, but also those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment.

The EmergencySMS service allows people to request emergency assistance from the police, fire brigade, paramedics and even the coastguard. Before using this service, you MUST register your mobile number, this can be done by texting the word ‘register’ in an SMS message to 999. You will then be sent a text from an automated operator which you should respond to with another SMS message simply saying ‘yes’. Your registration will then be confirmed with a final message, and, just like that, your number is registered with the EmergencySMS service. Do not wait until an emergency arises before registering your number as this could slow down the process of getting help. Instead, register when you’ve got a spare two minutes and make sure the service is already up and running should you ever need it.

To then use this service in an emergency, a short message can be sent to 999 in which you should state the department you require, a brief description of the situation, and your location. An address or surrounding landmarks will do, no need for geographical co-ordinates. For example: ‘Fire Brigade. Nearby house ablaze. Next to Co-op. Frederick Street, Edinburgh’, be as clear and concise as possible. You will then receive a text to state that help is on its way.

Launched by BT in 2014, Next Generation Text Service is also a method of contacting the emergency services that does not require speaking aloud. You can download their free app on any smart phone, laptop or tablet. When opening the app, you will be asked to use your phone’s keypad to dial 18000, back in the app you will be connected to 999 and put in contact with a Relay Assistant. Simply tell them which service you require and using the app’s conversation window you can discuss your situation and they will ensure the right help is sent your way. Again, it is key that you keep information clear and concise to ensure that you receive the correct form of assistance!

If the help you require is non-urgent, simply repeat the same steps, but dial 18001 instead. The NGT app then puts you in contact with an operator and allows you to report issues such as information about crime in your area, a crime that is not currently in progress e.g. a stolen car, or speaking to the police etc. about a general enquiry.

The emergency services aim to ensure that those in need are getting the most effective and efficient forms of help. Receiving a cold call can be frustrating for the operators and also puts those in need in an increasingly vulnerable position if they are not able to state why they are calling. Dialling 999 directly may be the quickest option, but that does not mean to say it is the safest or most effective.

Register your mobile number with the EmergencySMS service or download the NGT app to ensure that if you ever find yourself in an emergency, you have the help you require right at your fingertips!

Image Credit: pxhere

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