Extend emergency SMS service to wider public

The mass shooting in a nightclub in the United States has, once again, highlighted the fact that terrorist attacks can happen anywhere and at any time ("50 dead in worst mass shooting in US history"; yesterday).

My heart and prayers go out to all the victims and their loved ones.

If such a situation does occur in Singapore, the most spontaneous thing to do is to try to escape. If that is not possible, we would then want to hide in a safe place and call the police for help.

Yet, in such situations, your life could be compromised if your voice is heard while attempting to hide and be safe. Sending an SMS to the police would seem like a better choice at this point.

However, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) website says that its SMS70999 service is available only to deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech-impaired people who register in advance with designated voluntary welfare organisations.

Under the Frequently Asked Questions section on the website, it is stated that if calling 999 will compromise the caller's safety, the caller should wait for the opportunity when calling 999 is safe.

The website advises that alternatively, the caller could consider sending an SMS to a person who can assist to call police on the sender's behalf.

I am extremely concerned about the SPF's response. In an emergency, every second counts towards the safety of hostages.

By waiting for an opportunity that ultimately might not come, or having a third party call the police, more lives could be lost because more time would be wasted.

If a hostage is able to provide details of the attack through a direct SMS to the police, would it not be better, instead of a third party calling the police with only whatever information he has received? What if the information received is not enough? Does the SPF expect the third party to get more details from the hostage?

In the light of the safety of everyone in Singapore, I strongly urge the SPF to rethink its strategy of SMS services the public can use during an emergency.

Donovan Chee Kwok Hoe

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Extend emergency SMS service to wider public'. Print Edition | Subscribe