Using SMS in emergency situations has always carried a certain element of risk, primarily because mobile operators always give priority to voice, but changes to EU regulations with regards to telecommunications in May this year will mean that access to the emergency services must be made as flexible and as inclusive as possible. This means making 999 accessible to the hearing and speech impaired who have struggled until now.
A UK-wide emergency SMS pilot, championed by the RNID, was launched in 2009 and ran until the summer of last year. The service allows pre-registered users to send an SMS to a 999 number. Once delivered it is converted into a voice message and forwarded to the fire service, ambulance or police, depending on its nature.
At the end of the pilot there were more than 4000 registered users and the service has already handled over 300 emergency calls.
While Ofcom has announced it wants to make the service mandatory, there are still limitations associated with it in emergency situations, primarily because it lack spontaneity and you have to register in advance to use the service. Emergencies don’t often give you that luxury.
In the autumn of last year we were involved in developing a niche emergency SMS application for a participant of the infamous Mongol rally. Our brief was to develop an application that was cost effective and would guarantee the delivery of all messages sent. This was important because, unlike conventional rallies, the Mongol rally does not have backup or support teams so if you get stuck or find yourself in trouble, you’re really on your own.
In order to overcome the uncertainties associated with delivery (due to phones being switched off, poor signal etc), we made modifications our popular email to SMS application, turning it on its head so it became an SMS to email application.
Our bespoke software converts SMS messages into email formats and delivers them accordingly. Our servers are connected directly to the mobile networks so delivery failure, due to poor coverage or phones being turned off, is eliminated.
If a recipient’s PC, iPhone or other mobile device is switched off then messages may not be seen until much later, but they are delivered immediately – recipients need to make sure they read them.
The opportunities for such an application are enormous, particularly for people who are working in countries where freedom of speech is limited.
Take Libya or Bahrain as examples – our solution would allow aid workers or news reporters to discretely yet quickly send a message to the outside world saying they were in need of urgent assistance, or simply to keep us updated about what’s is going on.
Our application is not only reliable, it is also extremely cost effective because it works with “Go-Sim“ SIM cards – where prices are fixed.
Hugh Gibaud, who initially trialled the pilot service said: “To be honest, I was very sceptical at first because I did not think it would be possible to get a signal in the middle of the Gobi desert, but you can and I was extremely glad.”
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