Emergency 999 by SMS text message

Posted on 25 November 2010 by Tony Turton

If you're out in a remote area and need to contact the emergency services it's possible you might not have a mobile phone signal. If your phone can't connect to your regular network it's worth trying to call 999 or 112 anyway because all networks will carry an emergency call. So if, for example, you're on O2 and there's no signal but there is Vodafone coverage your call will go through on Vodafone.

If you can't get a voice connection you might still be able to send a text message (SMS). This is because an SMS uses much less capacity than a voice call so if the signal's very weak (too weak to show on your phone) it might still be enough to carry a text.

There's a system which lets you do this. It was originally set up for deaf, hard of hearing, and speech-impaired people but is now available to everyone. It's very simple, but you do need to register your phone with the service. It's obviously best to do this NOW before you need to use it in an emergency. All the details you need are on the Emergency SMS website - start by reading the page under the "About Emergency SMS" link then go on to "Registering your phone" and follow the instructions. I've registered, and it took less than a minute. As far as I know there are no security or privacy issues about registering.

Because the service has only just been opened to all users there isn't much experience yet of using it for mountain rescue call-outs. You probably know that these are handled by the police so if you make a 999 voice call, when the operator asks which service you need you say "police; mountain rescue". The website gives an example of how you should write your text message: they say you should start with "police" but it would probably be a good idea to start "police - mountain rescue".

And just in case, a reminder that when you use your mobile (voice or text) to call the emergency services your call could be routed to a centre just about anywhere so the operator probably won't know which area you're in. Be prepared to say right at the start that you're in "Cumbria", or "about 4 miles south of Okehampton, Devon", or whatever.

Even on last Sunday's walk we found we were going through areas with no signal, so my advice is REGISTER NOW before you find yourself wishing you'd done it before!