999 Line: How BT is Driving Critical Communications in the UK

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The emergency services 999 line has provided a lifeline for members of the public to contact the Police, Fire, Ambulance or Coastguard for the last 80 years. It is the most memorable number in the UK and provides a vital service.

Six BT call centres handle the nation’s 999 calls in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the North of England, passing calls to the relevant emergency service.

In the past year, BT’s committed team handled more than 34 million calls at an average of 93,000 per day. Of those calls connected to the emergency services, 49% were for the Police, 47% Ambulance, 4% Fire and less than 1% for the Coastguard.

As most people are winding down to enjoy the festive celebrations, calls to 999 are expected to surge, with teams working around the clock to deal with the demands.

Ian Watson, 999 Manager at BT, commented: “Our busiest period of the year is from about 9pm on New Year’s Eve to 3am on New Year’s morning when we receive almost half a day’s calls in just six hours with a peak of up to 9,000 calls per hour.”

Jane Larkin, Control Room Manager at North Yorkshire Police, stresses the demand on the Police service, commenting: “During the festive period, the public still need the assistance of the emergency services who are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide a service. Traditionally from the Friday evening before Christmas up to New Year’s Day police forces deal with many extra calls.

The majority of these calls are from people in genuine need of policing services such as reporting people as missing, concern for people’s safety, attendance at serious road traffic collisions and violent incidents where excessive drinking has been a factor. In recent years there have also been requests for assistance caused by extreme seasonal weather patterns, such as flooding and heavy snow conditions.”

The 999 line handles thousands of critical calls but also some less well-judged requests. Calls that the police have received include:

• “The Off Licence has closed early”
• Requests for instructions on how to defrost a turkey
• Requests for a lift home from the Police because no taxis are available.
• “What time does Sainsbury’s close?”
• “Can I apply to the Police Station for a licence for Santa’s sleigh?”
• “My mobile phone is not working – can you help?”
• A report of someone who is not sleeping very well – can the Police recommend a solution?
• A man woke at home after drinking heavily wearing a pair of handcuffs and wanted to know how to remove them.

Jeremy Brown, Head of Emergency Operations Centre at West Midlands Ambulance Service commented: “Our staff work incredibly hard to make sure people get the help that they need as quickly as possible. On average they answer the call within just three seconds of it being put through by our colleagues at BT. At this time of year when our teams are dealing with a high volume of calls, we would urge people to think carefully before calling 999. The line exists to help in an emergency and calling unnecessarily distracts from those in need. If you are unsure whether to ring, try the 111 service first as even if you need an ambulance, it won’t delay help coming.”

As the front-line response team at BT and the emergency services gear up for the busiest night of the year, the public are advised to be mindful and only dial 999 in the case of an emergency.


Telecomdrive Bureau
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