999: The world's oldest emergency services phone number marks 80th anniversary

Jul 3, 2017 10:23 IST

The world’s oldest emergency helpline number 999 on 2 July 2017 completed 80 years of its services in the United Kingdom. The introduction of the world's first emergency call telephone number was celebrated by the police forces across Britain.

Now, 999 number is the best known phone number in Britain to alert police, fire, ambulance and coastguards to emergencies.

The last eight decades saw the expansion of the emergency service from over 1000 calls in the first week of operation in London in 1937 to around 560000 calls a week now, making for around 30 million calls a year.

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In the early days of its launch, just 24 staff in the old Victoria Embankment headquarters of the Metropolitan Police dealt with around hundred calls a day.

Now, there are three centralised communication complexes in Bow, Hendon and Lambeth that employ over 2000 people dealing with 13000 to 20000 calls per day.

More than 97 per cent of calls are now answered within five seconds, with 62 per cent of calls made by members of the public currently coming from mobile phones.

However, around 35 per cent of calls do not involve actual requests for help, with the majority of these made by children playing with home phones or people accidentally dialling 999 or the European emergency number 112.

When was 999 helpline service launched and Why?
The 999 helpline service was launched following a fire at a London doctor's surgery in November 1935 that resulted in five fatalities. Following this, a committee was set up by the British government to look at how telephone operators could identify emergency calls.

The committee proposed that there should be a standard easy-to-remember nationwide number to alert the emergency services and fixed 999 as the most practical number.

Glasgow was the second city to introduce the emergency service in 1938, but the Second World War delayed the roll-out across the UK until it reached all major towns and cities by 1948.


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