With emergency SOS via satellite now available on iPhones 14 and up, technology is now combatting the no-signal challenge head on. Things have come a long way since a time when the quickest route to emergency assistance was on foot. Here, we chart the progress of raising an SOS, as there are now more ways to do so than ever before. 


“Bluetooth to call 999 – now I’ve heard everything.”


This is a Facebook response to security company Pick Protection, who are preparing to launch their Pick Guardian alarm through a crowdfund next month. The app-based alarm uses smartphone technology and a separate trigger device (yes, bluetooth), to get emergency assistance quickly and discreetly, and is a long way from how we used to get help. 

From running to someone’s house to using data to send a GPS location, and even tapping into satellite connections, here’s how raising an alarm has evolved over the centuries. 


Where we were

In the 1800s, the only way to call for help in case of an emergency was to run to the nearest town or village and alert the authorities in person. It was a cumbersome process to say the least, and often resulted in long response times. For those living in more rural areas, the speed at which someone could high-tail it to the nearest medical professional or law enforcement could be a matter of life and death.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the telephone was invented, and with it came the ability to call for help quickly and easily. Emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulance departments soon began to establish call centres, where operators could receive calls and dispatch responders to the scene of an emergency.


We we are today

Fast forward to today, and we have a multitude of devices and technologies available to help us call for help in an emergency. Smartphones, in particular, have revolutionised the way we communicate with emergency services. With just a few taps on a touchscreen, we can connect directly to emergency services, report an incident, and even share our location.

Mobile safety apps and wearable devices have also emerged as important tools for calling for help. These apps and devices often have built-in features such as one-touch emergency calls, location sharing, and automatic fall detection, which can alert emergency services or designated contacts if the wearer is in distress.

As technology continues to evolve, the future of calling for help looks increasingly connected and intelligent. New technologies such as voice-activated personal assistants, artificial intelligence, and 5G networks are already being incorporated into emergency response systems, making it easier than ever to call for help and receive assistance quickly and efficiently.


Where we’re heading

One of the biggest challenges in getting emergency help is no signal – especially in remote areas. Those going off the beaten track risk having their signal blocked by surrounding mountains or impacted by bad weather. 

Owners of iPhone 14 phones can already use a satellite connection to raise an SOS in areas of no signal, as long as there is clear line of sight to a satellite. As for everyone else, the UK has been chosen to trial Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite technology to provide better connectivity in areas that struggle with any kind of connection.

This means smartphone features and alarms such as the Pick Guardian, which only need a small amount of data to raise an SOS, will have a better chance of doing so in low signal areas. 


The support behind distress signals 

Technology is only one part of the equation when it comes to emergency response. Emergency services personnel are still the backbone of any response system, and as technology continues to evolve, it’s crucial that the UK continues to invest in training, and equipping emergency responders to ensure they have the tools and skills they need to keep members of the public safe.

The ability of police departments to handle 999 calls depends on various factors, including the number of staff available and the demand for emergency services in a given areas.

In some areas, the police may have sufficient staff to handle 999 calls effectively. They may have adequate call centre operators, dispatchers, and field officers to respond to emergencies promptly and efficiently. In these cases, the response time to 999 calls is typically fast, and callers can expect to receive the help they need quickly.

However, in other areas, the police may struggle to keep up with the volume of 999 calls they receive. This may be due to a shortage of staff, a high demand for emergency services, or a combination of both. In these cases, response times may be slower, and callers may experience delays in receiving the help they need. A league table released by the Government last May showed the difference in the time it took to answer calls by different forces around the country.

To address this issue, police departments may take various measures to improve their ability to handle 999 calls. This could include hiring more staff, implementing new technologies to streamline call handling and dispatch, and working with other emergency services providers to improve collaboration and coordination.

According to data from the Home Office, in March 2021, there were a total of 141,709 police officers in England and Wales. This represents an increase of around 5,000 officers compared to March 2020.

In contrast, in 2001, there were approximately 140,000 police officers in England and Wales, according to historical data from the Home Office. This means that the number of police officers in the UK has remained relatively stable over the past two decades, with a slight increase in recent years.

Rebecca Pick, founder of Pick Protection explained how the Pick Guardian Alarm could prove beneficial in streamlining 999 calls,

“We’ve used this technology and process for requesting help with corporate customers for the past seven years, and reducing false alarms was really important, as well as having a reliable and fast way to get help.

The button used to raise the alarm serves only that purpose, meaning it’s highly unlikely it’ll be activated accidentally. And the alert goes through highly trained operators outside the 999 avenue, only going straight to the police control room if they’ve identified a genuine emergency. This helps filter out false alarms that might be draining police call-handler resources.”