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Emergency Text Service could save lives 1 April 2008

The Island’s emergency services and Manx Telecom have introduced a new Emergency Text Messaging Service to enable people who have a hearing or speech impairment to contact the emergency services by texting 166999 from their mobile phones.

The emergency services stress that, for the majority of people, the main method for contacting the emergency services should always be to dial 999 on a fixed line telephone, or on a mobile phone if no fixed line is available. However, the new Emergency Text Messaging Service is designed to provide people who have a hearing or a speech impairment with an alternative method of getting help, or reporting a serious incident.

Announcing the new service, Leading Firefighter Peter Killey, from the Island’s Fire and Rescue Service said:

'In late 2007 I noticed in a Fire and Rescue Service journal that our colleagues in Cumbria had joined up with the Police and Ambulance Services to launch an emergency text facility for deaf and speech impaired persons. I thought this was an excellent idea so I suggested this initiative to Chief Fire Officer, Brian Draper, who gave his full support to proceed and liaise with our colleagues in the Police, Ambulance and Coastguard Services and to include various Government Departments and local organisations/charities that could take advantage of this Emergency Text Messaging Service. I also felt that with technology moving forward all the time, it’s vital that we use the latest and most efficient means of communication to benefit anyone who has hearing difficulties or a speech impairment in the Isle of Man.
'For those who can’t easily use the telephone in the normal way, this could be a lifesaver. It should be stressed that texting 166999 should only be used for emergencies which require an immediate response, such as when a serious injury has occurred or there is a danger of serious injury, when a building is on fire, in a road traffic accident involving an injury, or a crime is in progress and the suspects are at or near the scene.'

The success of the service depends on the accuracy and detail of the information given via the text. In an emergency, users should provide such information as where they are, or the location of the incident, ideally giving a house number, street name, or nearby landmark, a postcode would be ideal. They should also give details of what has happened, i.e. text fire, police, ambulance, or coastguard, and send the message to 166999.

There is always a potential for delay when sending text messages, and users can only be certain that a message has been received by the emergency services if they receive a text message acknowledging receipt. It’s recommended that if they don’t get a response within two minutes users should use an alternative method of contacting the emergency services or if this is not possible, try texting again.

Manx Telecom’s Graham Shimmin said:

'The new service will only work on mobile handsets which are set up correctly to send text messages (SMS). If in doubt, users should refer to their mobile handsets user guide, or seek advice from their network operator. The emergency text service will only work if people are within mobile coverage and if they are a customer of one of the Island mobile operators, Manx Telecom, Cloud 9, or C&W Sure. The service will not work with any other sim cards, even when roaming on a Manx network. People with a hearing or speech impairment may find it useful to save the 166999 number now in their mobile contacts list under ‘Emergency Text’.'

Home Affairs Minister Martyn Quayle MHK commented:

'This is a fantastic new service for people in our community who might previously have been unable to contact the emergency services, and all credit must go to Peter Killey of the Isle of Man Fire and Rescue Service, Robert Williamson, Technical Director and all staff at the Emergency Services Joint Control Room, Manx Telecom and everyone who has contributed to enabling this service to be available on the Isle of Man. All emergency texts, like emergency calls, will be handled by the Joint Control Room, further extending their function and demonstrating once again that we are committed to ensuring the facility remains a world leader in terms of keeping ahead of technological advances to provide services to the Manx public.'

The new service only applies if the emergency is on the Isle of Man.

Misuse of the Emergency Text Service could render you liable for prosecution under the Telecommunications Act 1984.

A leaflet outlining the new service is available by contacting Fire and Rescue Service Headquarters on 647303. Alternatively a downloadable version of this Emergency Text Service leaflet can be found at www.ionfire.com.

The leaflet is also available on DVD in British Sign Language and in a large text version for visually impaired.

For further information email iomfire@gov.im

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