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Emergency Calls

Volume 476: debated on Monday 2 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what studies she has conducted into the viability of a 999 text message service for use by members of the public. (205720)

I have been asked to reply.

My Department has not conducted such studies. Short Message Service (SMS) text is a store and forward medium with no guarantee of delivery, and in most cases the sender will not know whether a message has been received. This means that SMS text is not generally suitable for emergency calls.

However, BERR officials, working with other Government Departments, the telecommunication service providers, the emergency services and representatives of deaf and other user organisations, have identified a technical solution for providing an emergency SMS text service for the deaf, and those with hearing or speech impairment. Technical development will be necessary before trials can be carried out. It is hoped that the work will be completed later this year. The service will provide an alternative option for those who routinely use SMS text and either do not use a text relay service or may be in a situation where it is not available.

As SMS does not provide a real time service and cannot be a substitute for voice or text relay services, any emergency SMS service will only be available to those who have registered with the service and accept its limitations.