Singapore is in the lead for many e-government rollouts, one of which lets citizens send a text message to emergency call takers instead of dialling in - a system which drew the praise of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In a Facebook post at noon yesterday, PM Lee said he read an article about four telcos in the United States offering a text-to-911 service last Thursday for people who could not hear or speak to report an emergency.
"I asked if we could do the same, and was glad to learn that we are already doing so," PM Lee wrote. "We should make the most of technology to improve our lives, and especially of people with special needs."
Singapore's version of the US' text-to-911 service was launched as far back as 2008 under the iGov2010 masterplan to increase the reach and richness of government e-services.
The Emergency Short Messaging Service (SMS) Helpline, or SMS 70999 for short, is a joint initiative between the Singapore Police Force and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) to let people who cannot hear or speak communicate with the police during emergencies.
Only those registered with NCSS via their voluntary welfare organisations can use the service; all others are advised to call 999 or report their cases at police stations. Unregistered text messages are filtered out, with an auto-generated message sent to the unregistered sender, to prevent abuse of the system.
Four major US carriers - Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint - turned on the text-to-911 service last week in select counties in states including Colorado, Georgia, Montana, New York, Ohio and Texas where 911 call centres are prepared to receive texts.
The US Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules that would require all wireless service providers to support text-to-911 by the end of this year in its push to allow all consumers to text to 911 regardless of the text providers they use.
This article was published on May 19 in The Straits Times.
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