Hill and mountain walkers urged to register for emergency SMS text service

Dec 2010

Hill and mountain walkers urged to register for emergency SMS text service
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Walkers who visit areas with bad mobile phone access can now register with a new service that allows 999 calls to be made via a text message.

Heather Morning, safety adviser with the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, is urging walkers and climbers to register for this service in advance and not to wait for an emergency. She says,

"If you cannot make voice calls, you can now contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone.

"This is going to be particularly useful for those needing 999 assistance in the hills when mobile reception is poor and there is not enough signal to make a call."

The emergency SMS service was established originally for deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people. It allows users to contact the UK 999 services by sending an SMS text message.

Mountain Rescue Services in the UK are usually coordinated by the police.

For more information and to register for the emergency SMS service, visit here


“When registering on the emergency SMS website I found that a capital (upper case) letter in the word "register" you have to send (which is automatic on some phones) caused it to fail. When I resent it with the first letter changed to lower case it worked. This was not made very clear on the registering web site.”

Graham Turner, Brighton


“Great idea. Mobile phones are always monitoring for the network control channels (you may well have heard the pulsing signal as interference on other audio equipment). Text messages use these control channels, not the audio channels, and therefore may well get through even if the indicated signal strength is zero and therefore insufficient for voice transmission. Users should perhaps familiarise themselves with the 'Mayday' protocol, ensure each message contains the essential information as appropriate, eg. LOCATION / MEANS OF IDENTIFICATION / NUMBER OF PERSONS / PROBLEM / ASSISTANCE REQUIRED / ACTION BEING TAKEN, and repeat the message periodically, even if it appears to have been sent, and even if no reply is recieved. Final point. As internal aerials are the norm, NOT holding your mobile phone may improve the chance of messages being tran/cieved, if it can be placed somewhere safe and dry to be monitored. And there is almost always some signal around 'at the top'!”

Wildblueyonder, Holmfirth


“The emergency SMS service was established originally for deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people. It allows users to contact the UK 999 services by sending an SMS text message. Although the website specifically addresses that demographic it is open to other users.

There are problems:

Firstly, as it uses SMS, delivery of messages cannot be guaranteed and secondly, it may be necessary to exchange a number of messages before help is sent. The last point is very important because people imagine that if one SMS message gets through, help will be on its way. This is not the case as the emergency services may need to ask more questions about your location and the nature of the problem. If the emergency service does not receive a response to their questions, no action will be taken. This exchange of SMS messages means that making a voice 999 call will always be quicker.

Message should include:

• emergency service required,

• nature of incident,

• accurate location.

For our purposes that might be
'ambulance. hiker has broken leg. Madwomans Stones, Kinder Scout SK137880'

Things to bear in mind (and apologies if I've misunderstood anything):

• Only use the text service if voice 999 call fails to connect.

• One text message can be up to 140 characters (over twice the length of the example). May as well make maximum use.

• The message may not get delivered. Assume not and continue first aid and alternative ways of seeking help.

• All mobile carriers should process 999 calls regardless of which network provider you normally use and irrespective of credit on the account. That increases the chances of getting a signal of some sort.

• The phone should keep trying to send an SMS so moving to higher vantage point or the other side of a hill may help.

• I believe an SMS message only needs 50 milliseconds of connection so a brief weak connection may be enough to get the message through.

• Duplicate location information in different formats if possible - for example using a map grid reference people sometimes get it wrong, swap eastings and northings for example so give a landmark too.

Hope this helps”

Rob Hindle, Sheffield


“No signal at all and nothing will get through but on many occassions data [SMS] take up less signal space than voice and will get through.”

Roger Woods, Nottingham


“Great idea, carried out the instruction on their website no problems. Whole thing done in a matter of minutes. One thing though if no phone reception anyway to make call, how does a SMS message get through??”

Stephen Ellaby, Wigan


The views expressed by contributors to this discussion are not necessarily those held by go4awalk.com.

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