Emergency Services' Telephone Numbers

Emergency Services’ Telephone Numbers

This month we thought we would have a look at the emergency telephone numbers that are used in the United Kingdom and abroad.

Do you know what telephone number to call when you need emergency assistance around the world?

The number used will vary depending on the country;
below is a list of numbers that may be useful:

The United Kingdom 999
Australia 000
Barbados 911
The Bahamas 911/919
Brazil (Police) 190
Brazil (Ambulance) 192
Brazil (Fire) 193
China (Police) 110
China (Ambulance) 120
China (Fire) 119
The European Union 112
Hong Kong 999
India 112
Japan (Police) 110
Japan (Other Services) 119
New Zealand 111
USA and Canada 911

So that’s made it much more clearer, hasn’t it? Well technically no it hasn’t as there are so many different emergency numbers for the same purpose, and not only that but the list also shows that there are countries who even have different numbers for each of the different services!

So why 999?

999 was the world’s first automated telephone to contact the emergency services. The first call originated in 1936. The idea of the emergency service contact number goes back even further than this, as in 1935 5 women died during a fire in Wimpole Street, London. Neighbours of the women had dialled ‘0’ to get in touch with the emergency services, which connected them to the switchboard, sadly, what these callers found was that the switchboard was jammed full of other calls that were not an emergency. This method of contacting the emergency services had been recommended since 1927.

During the 1920s and 30s police stations were being overrun with visitors alerting them of emergencies as well as having to field calls from the telephone which was a new invention at the time. The other way, during these decades, to contact the emergency services was to ask the operator for Whitehall 1-2-1-2, which was the Information Room set up at the Metropolitan Police Headquarters on Victoria Embankment.

Following on, from the 5 women’s deaths in Wimpole Street the General Post Office, that ran the telephone network, suggested a 3-digit telephone number that could be dialled to trigger a special signal and flashing light at the exchange. This would then signal to the operators to give their attention into this call. In order to find the new emergency number in the dark or smoke it was suggested to use an end number so that it could be easily found by touch.

Many combinations were suggested, ‘111’, was ruled out immediately as it could be triggered by faulty equipment or lines getting crossed. ‘222’ was also ruled out as it would have connected to the Abbey Local Exchange as in those days the number represented the first three letters ‘ABB’. They also looked at using ‘1’ and decided against this as it could be accidentally triggered, and ‘000’ wasn’t used as the first ‘0’ would have connected to the switchboard.

999 was then deemed to be the most reasonable choice of number. The service came into effect on July 1st 1937 and covered a 12-mile radius from London’s Oxford Circus. Several people claimed to have made the first 999 call, however one newspaper claims the first 999 call was made by Mrs Beard of Hampstead, on July 8th 1937. She was reporting a burglar that her husband was chasing, and he was promptly caught.

It is believed that during the first full week of 999, a total of 1,336 calls were made. In the November the Information Room was able to take over the control of the calls, and the system started to get rolled out around the UK, in particular Glasgow, in 1938.

By 1967, 400,000 calls were made to the Police in London, with over a million for all services across the UK.

What happens when you call 999?

When you call 999, the operator will ask which service you require. Here we take a look at the ambulance. Your call will be connected to an Emergency Operations Centre. The person on the other end of the line, known as a call handler, will then ask you a series of questions. It is important to note that these questions will not slow down the ambulance to reach you but will allow the call handler to fully assess the needs of the casualty.

You will need to ensure that you have the following information available for the call handler:

The address of the emergency including postcode:
This is possibly the most important information you can provide to the call handler, as it will help the ambulance to reach the emergency as quickly as possible. Should you be in a rural, countryside location, if you can provide the grid reference that will be a big help. If you are totally unsure you should look for telephone boxes, members of the public who you could ask for your location, motorway marker boards if these are safe for you to view or street signs. All of these things can assist you in providing location information to the call handler.

The telephone number you are calling from:
This is helpful for the call handler should the call get disconnected and they need to call you back to continue getting information from you to help them assess the casualty.

What has happened:
If you are able to, you should provide the call handler with as much information as you can as to the circumstances around the emergency, the state of the casualty’s health and what you are doing in order to support the casualty.

Once you have handed this information to the call handler, they are able to release an ambulance, the call handler will then ask you further questions. These questions will help the call handler to provide you with first aid advice that can help you to look after the casualty until the ambulance staff arrive to take over.

The questions they may ask include:

  • The casualty’s age, gender and medical history,
  • Whether the casualty is conscious and breathing or otherwise,
  • Is the casualty bleeding?
  • Does the casualty have any chest pain?
  • Details of the casualty’s injury and how it has happened,
  • What part of the body is injured?
  • Is there any serious bleeding?

Depending on the cause of the injury, you may be asked if the attacker is still on scene, so that the crew can be advised, and if necessary held back until the Police are able to attend and assist. Another relevant question may be is there anyone trapped inside a vehicle, this will then help the call handler to arrange other assistance that their crew may need, e.g. the Fire Service.

While you are at the scene of the emergency it is important that you remain as calm as you possibly can and listen carefully to the questions being asked of you, so that you are then able to provide the call handler with the information they require. While you are waiting for the ambulance the call handler will provide you with information you need to be able to assist the casualty, if you are in the street it is important that you stay with the casualty. Should you have put the telephone down and ended the call, you should call the emergency Operations Centre back should the casualty change, or you change location. If you are calling from home or work, it is advisable that you open windows or doors so that you can signal to the ambulance crew, or you could send someone to wait in a visible place for them to guide them into where you and the casualty are waiting. It is always a good idea to lock away animals and pets for the safety of the crew.

Other things you can do to assist the medical staff are to have written down the casualty’s doctor’s details and any information on medication they take, even better collect their medication up and show this to the paramedics on their arrival. Be aware of any allergies the casualty has and ensure that you have told the call handler so they can pass this on to the ambulance crew, you can also reinforce this with the crew when they arrive.

Always try to stay calm, this is harder to achieve than it is to say but it is important so that you are able to take heed of the advice the call handler has given you and then carry it out.

Do NOT hang up the telephone, stay on the line, unless you are told otherwise by the call handler. The ambulance will be sent as soon as you have passed on the location to the call handler.

999 or 112 in the UK?

Where does this question come from, I hear you ask, and the answer to that is simple. In the UK confusion reigns as to the right number to use for the emergency services. The main reason for the confusion is, as far as I can tell, the advent of social media, although I have been made aware of a video on YouTube which backs up the myth that 112 is better than 999.

Firstly, I would ask how the telephone number that is universally known in the UK as the emergency number became inferior to a number of which not everyone is aware. 112 as discussed earlier is the European Union telephone that is live in all current 28-member states of the EU, (Brexit is not discussed further in this article!).

Secondly, we look at social media, sadly in today’s world, if it’s on social media it must be true and vice versa. This is not the case. You can write anything on social media whether there is evidence behind it or not. The myth on social media is that the telephone call will send more information to the call handler and handles the call in a different way if you use 112 over 999. This is in fact incorrect. Another myth is that a mobile phone’s SIM card is specially preprogrammed to dial 112 in an emergency; this is in fact true however it is important to note that the SIM card is also preprogrammed for 999 and some 911 as well.

The video on YouTube, which could be where some of the myth and incorrect detail of 112 comes from, is entitled, ‘Help me’ The secrets of using 112 on a mobile phone in an emergency or accident. I have taken the decision not to link to this video as it contains incorrect and therefore confusing information, but as of Monday the video has received 236,087 views!

The Truth:

In truth, 999 and 112 are the SAME in the United Kingdom! Yes, you read that correctly, the 2 numbers are exactly the same in the United Kingdom. You can use either one and you will get the same service, with the same location information sent to the call handler as each other. Most people will dial 999 as this is the number that we have been brought up with in the UK since we were knee high to a grasshopper and it will continue to be for many years to come having celebrated its 80th birthday in 2017.

REMEMBER: Should your mobile telephone not have a signal BUT has battery, you will be able to contact the emergency services by calling either 999 or 112 as your mobile will recognise both of these as an emergency.

What has changed to 999

During this article we want to look at 2 major evolutions of the emergency number 999 over its 80 years.

The first of these is the opportunity to be able to text 999 and get an emergency response.

The EmergencySMS service was introduced in September 2009, and was developed by:

  • Action on Hearing Loss,
  • British Telecom (BT),
  • Cable and Wireless,
  • The Department of Communities and Local Government,
  • OFCOM,
  • The UK Emergency Services, and
  • All the UK mobile network operators.

The idea behind this service is that if you are unable to make voice calls, you can contact the EmergencySMS from your mobile phone. This is a service which is part of the usual 999 service but designed specifically for people with hearing loss or difficulty with speech.

The service should ONLY be used to send notification of an emergency, test texts should not be sent. An emergency is described as:

  • Someone’s life is at risk,
  • A crime is happening now,
  • Someone is injured or threatened,
  • There is a fire, or someone is trapped,
  • You need an ambulance urgently,
  • Someone is troubled on the cliffs, on the shoreline or is missing at sea.

In order to use the service, the person who may need to use it has to register by sending ‘register’ to 999, and then follow the instructions that are sent back to them. Once registered the user can then text 999 in an emergency but will need to ensure that they have included in their message, which service they require, where the problem is and what the emergency is. The emergency services’ operator will then ask for further information if required or will confirm that help is on the way. The assumption of help being on its way should not be made, and if a reply has not been received, usually after 2 minutes, the user should try to send another message usually after 3 minutes or find another way to summon help.

Another change to the emergency services, is the advent of Silent Solutions; this service has been available on the Emergency Operator line since 2001, although even today is relatively unknown. The idea is that if you are unable to speak or make a sound on an emergency call, due to a terrorist attack or domestic abuse for instance, you will be asked to dial 55 and then be put through to the Police. Although, you are being put through to the Police this can also result in a life being saved. You should remember that the Police are unable to attend to all silent calls and therefore this service seems the obvious answer as they now know you are genuinely trying to contact the 999 operator.

The usual protocol in the UK, is for the operator to ask you a series of questions when you dial 999 in doing so trying to identify if you meant to dial the number in the first place. If they have not had a reply to their first question, which is, Which service do you require? The operator will then ask you to either tap the handset, cough or make a noise, should you not do this the operator will divert your call to a message that encourages you then to dial 55.

One of the myths that goes along with this service is that the Police are able to track your location. The emergency services have an array of methods to track your location, but not because you use the 55 process.

Finally, please remember that you DO NOT NEED a mobile phone signal to contact 999, the mobile phone SIM card will recognise this as an emergency number, and when trying to find a signal, will look for your network first, should this be unsuccessful then it will look for the next available network signal to allow the mobile to connect to the emergency services’ operator!

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