Press release

Police text campaign leads to renewed call to transform 999 emergency service

19 October 2016

As rail passengers are urged to text police over antisocial behaviour (including smoking) on trains, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is highlighting that a ‘999’ text service for ‘more serious’ crimes is urgently needed to reflect the digital age.

The British Transport Police’s advertising campaign suggests that rail travellers should text them is there is an incident on-board a train. An advertising campaign - which has the strapline "let's make a difference" - gives examples of the kind of crimes and incidents travellers might report, such as anti-social behaviour.

The IET has been working with the Government and other stakeholders for the past 18 months in an effort to make radical changes to the emergency ‘999’ call service to reflect the fact that more people are communicating by text or social media, rather than making a voice call.

Responding, Prof Will Stewart, IET Vice President, said: “Communications has changed drastically since the ‘999’ service was designed in 1937 – so there is a critical need to update the service.

“More and more people are using their smartphones for purposes other than talking and for younger people making a voice call to contact the emergency services is not something that would feel natural to them. 

“It could often be easier and safer for a potential victim of crime to send a text or alert someone over social media rather than making a voice call. Consider, for example, a lone teenager reporting a violent incident on a train.”

“Much of the technology we need to update our emergency service is available today. But we need a shared, cross-party strategy to create a common and user-friendly interface for all service providers to connect to – and one that the general public will be happy to use. And it’s important we do this before different parties go off and do their own thing – confronting the public with too many options and no universal emergency service.”

Notes to editors: