Tue, Dec 2nd 2008 1:30am
A guilty verdict in a rape and murder case in the UK is raising some questions about the country's emergency call system and its ability to deal with callers who can't speak. In this case, the 17-year-old victim dialed 999 (the British equivalent of 911) while she was being abducted, but she was obviously unable to speak directly to the operator without alerting her killer. The system followed its usual procedure for silent calls, giving the caller a recorded message to either tap their phone or hit the 5 key twice. That is fine for somebody whose only problem is that they can't speak; but for users who can't listen to the message and don't know to hit keys (which doesn't have to be an extreme case, but could also be the victim of a stroke or other medical emergency), it doesn't offer much help. Authorities are working on a text-based system for people with hearing and speech impediments, as they should, but again, that leaves many incapacitated people out in the cold. There will surely be a search for some technological solution to the problem, but maybe what's needed is some more common sense. For instance, is it very well publicized that people should hit the 5 key if they can't speak? Why not advertise that and make it more well known as a start? Inevitably, this sort of case will attract a lot of attention to the supposed technical shortcomings of the emergency call system, and indeed, it's something that should be a target for constant improvement. But the solutions to consider shouldn't only be technical ones.
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