Emergency text service launched

 

A pilot of an emergency text service for the deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired was launched by Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte today.

Aimed at those seeking emergency help who are unable or have difficulty in communicating verbally, the service will refer text messages to the Emergency Call Answering Service (ECAS) where they will be passed on to An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance service, the Fire service, or the Irish Coastguard.

Speaking at the launch at the National Emergency Co-ordination Centre in Agriculture House, Mr Rabbitte said the service, which will run until the end of June and will be operated by BT Ireland, meant the country was “taking a step closer towards parity of access for all to the emergency services.”

Mr Rabbitte said he looked forward to working with the representatives of those with disabilities “to improve the service and in the consideration of other technologies that will serve us even better.”

Department of Communications project manager of the service Aidan Ryan said those wanting to use the service must first register by sending a text message with the word “register” to 112. A confirmatory text will then invite them to visit the website www.112.ie where they must first provide location information before the service takes effect.

Those sending an emergency text message to the 112 number are asked to specify which emergency service they need, what the problem is, what county they are in and what their exact location is.

Mr Ryan said while it was free to send a text message to the 112 number, it may require the sender’s phone to have credit, depending on their phone provider.

Available to Vodafone, O2, Meteor, 3 and eMobile customers, Mr Ryan advised that those who change their mobile phone number after registering must re-register for emergency text service.

He also encouraged users of the service to store a draft message on their phone, detailing their home address to save time in the event of an emergency.

Eddie Redmond of the Irish Deaf Society said the service was a positive step for the Irish deaf community and those hard of hearing.

“Finally there is access for deaf people, we are on an equal par and we can use the emergency services as hearing people. Up to this point, deaf people didn’t have access.”

Mr Redmond however said he was concerned that the service was currently just a six month pilot.

“I wouldn’t agree with that. It should be a permanent service the same as hearing people have a 999 service all of the time. It’s a matter of life and death, the same as for hearing people.

“How do you contact the services, personally or for someone else? The pilot must continue.”

Mr Ryan said while the six-month pilot would be used to assess the usability of the service, he said he “would be surprised if we would withdraw the service.”