The UK's emergency services system should be radically overhauled, claims a report by the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

As well as being able to call for police, ambulance or fire brigade assistance by calling "999", the service needs to adapt with the times and embrace smartphone technologies.

The 999 calling system has been in operation since 1937 and has largely remained the same since. However, the services are constantly under threat of being overwhelmed and smartphone apps and text-based alerts could help reduce the strain.

The IET's reports, called "Contacting Emergency Services in the Digital Age", calls for systems to be designed to exploit dedicated phone and tablet applications.

Professor Will Stewart, chair of the IET's communications policy panel, said that younger people are more likely to use texts or social media to shout for help than voice calls.

"Given that young people are statistically more likely to be victims of crime or accidents, it is a concern that making a voice call to contact the emergency services is not something that would feel natural to them," he said.

"A girl alone in a minicab who becomes worried about her personal safety might feel unable to make a call on her mobile phone - but could send a text or alert someone over social media."

One proposed change is that the emergency services install automatic software systems to scan texts and pass known user information to handlers, including handset location gleaned from a device's GPS tracker.

"Your smartphone knows a lot of useful stuff. Firstly your location, secondly perhaps just listening to what's going on, activating your camera and looking at what's going on," said Stewart.

"If you're in a distressed situation, the operator would be much better able to decide what your problem was than if she was just listening to you sounding confused and distressed."