Adults in the UK have, on average, called the 999 emergency number twice in their lives, according to a new survey.
The poll, commissioned by BT, reveals that most calls to the 999 number are now made from a mobile phone. More than 3 in 5 (62%) adults have made a 999 call from a mobile, compared to only just over half (54%) making the same call from a landline.
The survey has been published by BT to mark this year’s 999 Day [9 September], an annual celebration of the work of emergency services across the UK. Six BT call centres handle all the UK’s 999 calls in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, passing calls to the relevant emergency service.
The number of 999 calls handled by BT has increased significantly in recent years, jumping from around 25 million calls a year in 2000, to close to 33 million calls last year. Over a quarter (27%) of adults believe that there were less than 10 million 999 calls made in the last year.
The poll of adults across the UK, conducted by Opinion Matters, showed that many people are not clear when to call 999 or 112, and when to call non-emergency numbers such as 101 and 111. 4% of UK adults (2.1 million) said they don’t know when to call 999. Only around a third (36%) know that they can call 101 for a non-emergency police issue. Women are more likely than men to know they can call 111 in a medical non-emergency, with half of UK women (52%) knowing when to call 111, compared to under 2 in 5 (38%) of men.
More than half (54%) of UK adults also did not know that smartphones can now provide the exact location of a 999 caller by sending an automatic text to the 999 call handler. The majority of mobile phones (70%) – including Android and Apple smartphones – can now detect that an emergency call is being made, and sends the caller’s precise GPS position to within three metres to the 999 service during the call. This can help emergency services get to incidents more quickly and save lives.
Geoff Hickman, Head of Voice Services at BT, said: “We are now handling record numbers of 999 calls each year. There may be several reasons for this, but it’s clear from the survey that not everyone knows when to call the emergency number, and when to call the range of non-emergency numbers.
“With nearly 80% of people now using a smartphone, we have a lot of people carrying potential life-savers in their pockets. Using a smartphone’s location service, our call handlers can now pinpoint a 999 caller to within three metres in seconds. This could mean, for example, being able to tell which side of the motorway the call has come from, helping an ambulance get to a scene ten minutes earlier, which is potentially life-saving.
“Our call handlers and emergency services do phenomenal work, so anything we can do to help them respond more efficiently, and potentially save lives, has to be a good thing.”
Viv Horton, Station Manager Control, at North Yorkshire Fire Service, said: “Call handlers are a vital part of the 999 emergency service. The Advance Mobile Location system, which is used daily in our control room, allows us to quickly locate people and reassure them that we know where they are. This in turn means we are able to send fire engines to incidents more quickly.”