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Press release

Ofcom smartphone report highlights need for urgent overhaul of 999 services

06 August 2015


As Ofcom's 2015 Communications Market Report reveals that smartphones have become the hub of our daily lives, technology experts are warning that there is a urgent need to make radical changes to the emergency ‘999’ call service to reflect the digital age.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is highlighting that urgent action is needed now to keep pace with the increasing move away from landlines to smart phones and to devices they enable like wearables, and from voice to data.

The IET is also calling on the Government to ensure that reform of the service is not allowed to drift.

Prof Will Stewart from the IET said: “Smartphones have become the hub of our daily lives and are now in the pockets of two thirds of UK adults, and the vast majority of young people own one.  Even half of 55 - 64 year olds now own a smartphone.

“The data from Ofcom highlights the urgent need for radical changes to be made to the 999 emergency service so that those in need can text as well as call.

“Much of the technology we need to update our emergency service is available today. But we urgently need to make progress now, with clear ownership from Government and Ministerial leadership.”

A data-based emergency service would allow people to text alerts via any appropriate app on a chosen easy-to-remember special number, such as 999 – and these alerts would then be passed to the human emergency operator. The main engineering challenge would be to set up priority routing of alerts to this special number in order to avoid delays at busy times. This needs to be arranged in consultation with the main mobile and app-based text providers, and with makers of new technology like wearables that might aid or even make emergency calls.

The IET Contacting the Emergency Services in the Digital Age report was produced the co-operation of the Cabinet Office.

Media enquiries to:

Hannah Kellett
External Communications Manager

Tel: +44 (0)1438 767336
Mob: +44 (0)7738 602426
Email: HKellett@theiet.org

Notes to editors:

  • Interview opportunities are available with IET spokespeople from a broad range of engineering and technology disciplines including cyber-security, energy, engineering skills, innovation, manufacturing, technology, transport and women in engineering.
  • The IET is one of the world’s largest engineering institutions with over 163,000 members in 127 countries. It is also the most interdisciplinary – to reflect the increasingly diverse nature of engineering in the 21st century. Energy, transport, manufacturing, information and communications, and the built environment: the IET covers them all.
  • The IET is working to engineer a better world by inspiring, informing and influencing our members, engineers and technicians, and all those who are touched by, or touch, the work of engineers.
  • We want to build the profile of engineering and change outdated perceptions about engineering in order to tackle the skills gap. This includes encouraging more women to become engineers and growing the number of engineering apprentices.