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70 years of British 999 service
#290846 09/02/07 01:58 AM
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Yes, Britain's 999 emergency telephone number is 70 years old. This is one of the very rare occasions when we can claim to have been years ahead of the U.S.A., since our 999 service was already in widespread use long before that first 911 test call was made in Haleyville, Alabama. cool

The first call to the new 999 service was made in the early hours of July 7, 1937 when Mr. Stanley Beard spotted a man at his house on Elsworthy Road, Hampstead (north London). A radio car was dispatched and just four minutes later Mr. Thomas Duffy was arrested in Primrose Hill, and later charged with the attempted break-in.

One of the main pushes for creating the 999 service had been a serious fire on Wimpole St. (central London) some time earlier, in which five people died. An inquiry highlighted the fact that unless a person knew the number of the local emergency service needed, he could do nothing but dial the regular operator and wait in line, since the operators could have no idea whether a call was urgent or not until answered. In the case of Wimpole St., several callers reported that they had still been trying to get through to the fire department when they heard the first fire engines arrive.

London and several other major cities did have special fire-call points (break the glass and push the button) at strategic street corners, but these were not available everywhere and were not always quickly and easily accessible from some locations.

In these early days (and indeed for many decades to follow) 999 calls were answered at the same G.P.O. switchboard positions as regular calls to the "0" assistance operator. Emergency calls came in on special trunk groups signaled by a red calling light over the jack instead of the usual white. Every incoming 999 call would also sound a klaxon and flash a large red light atop each bank of switchboard positions until answered, just to make sure that there was no possibility of an emergency call being missed.

After its inauguration in London, Glasgow was next in line to receive 999 service. The war intervened and delayed further deployment, but by the late 1940s almost every medium-size and larger town in the country had 999 service, and by the late 1950s it was available almost everywhere which had automatic telephone service. Just a few rural communities still had to go via regular operator routes.

Today, the 999 system has dedicated call centers which take over a half million calls every week. Most people think of fire, police, and ambulance when they think of 999, but the operators also have direct lines to both H.M. Coastguard and Mountain Rescue in the appropriate areas.

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Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290847 09/02/07 08:10 AM
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Interesting story. Thanks for sharing.
I guess the reason we Yanks took so long before following was that we wanted to make sure the system worked. laugh

Ive been told that the 911 data base here in the U.S. is sold to companies like The Home Shopping Network so when you call them they know your shipping address and the whole nine yards.

One of my residential customers years ago told me she had called to order something from the Shopping Network and they informed her that her information must not be in the 911 data base because their computer had no info for her telephone number. She dialed 911 after hanging up with the Shopping Network and sure enough they had no information on her number.
Since then I've checked all of my numbers and my relatives' number to make sure we are in the system.

Another little tidbit about 911 service in Dallas.
In the early 90's Garth Brooks was going to put on a concert in Texas Stadium. When the tickets went on sale there were so many calls at the same time 911 service was completely off line for a couple of hours! (My wife and I were using two land lines and two cell phones to get our tickets)
As a result of the outage there were changes made in the system that virtually guarantee 911 trunks remain open during events such as the ticket sales.

Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290848 09/02/07 01:54 PM
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Wow, GTE didn't get us 911 service in my area until 1994. Prior to that, we had to dial 582-7111 for fire and rescue or 582-7115 for the Sheriff's department in Bell Atlantic territory. Oh, and NO, they would not (could not) transfer calls if you dialed the wrong number.

Maybe I should have tried dialing 999 instead.


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Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290849 09/03/07 09:45 AM
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911, wut's dat? Oh, I know, that's 1 of them thar fancy Germin sporty cars! smile I recall trying to get a bid together for a small police dept. an central KS and deciding that if I didn't submit one, I wouldn't have to worry about winning it. So, I didn't, and I didn't! We did NOT have enough folks to be able to provide 1/2 hour 24-7-365 support. John C. (Not Garand)


When I was young, I was Liberal. As I aged and wised up, I became Conservative. Now that I'm old, I have settled on Curmudgeon.
Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290850 09/04/07 04:31 AM
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Quote
Ive been told that the 911 data base here in the U.S. is sold to companies like The Home Shopping Network
That doesn't happen here, but just about all the big mail-order places receive constant updates from the Post Office's post-code (equivalent to ZIP code) database. The postal code always narrows the location down to just one street, and in most places to no more than about a dozen or so houses on that street.

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Wow, GTE didn't get us 911 service in my area until 1994.
I know when I was down in Georgia in 1993 that there were still several counties in the state which had no 911 service at that time.

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Maybe I should have tried dialing 999 instead.
Did you know that Winnipeg, Manitoba also introduced a 999 emergency number in the late 1950s? It was changed later when Canada decided to go with 911 for consistency with the U.S.

The question of dialing the wrong number reminds me of another of those myths I've seen floating around the net.

I've lost count of how many times I've seen somebody claim the "little known fact" that dialing 911 also works in the U.K. The reason it's "little known" is because it just isn't true. 911 has never been assigned as an emergency number here, and in fact there are some places now where 911 can be the first three digits of a normal, valid local number.

How this rumor got started I don't know, but the only way 911 would ever work here is if it was programmed as a translation in a PBX or something like that.

Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290851 09/04/07 05:26 AM
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When I worked for a company in Richardson the local police were getting very PO'd because someone was dialing 911 and hanging up quite often. It was happening in the middle of the night when the building was supposed to be empty.

It took quite a bit of research but they discovered the calls were originating from the home office in Stockholm Sweden.
They were dialing into our local pbx through the vpn and dialing 9 to dial outside. The problem was that our pbx did not return dial tone after dialing 9 and it was apparently confusing them when they were dialing long distance so they were dialing 9 1 and for some reason they dialed the 1 again....

I never knew exactly what was done or to whom it was done but the 911 calls stopped from what I heard. wink

Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290852 09/04/07 09:36 AM
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Speaking of Sweden, their national emergency number at one time was 90000. It always seemed a cumbersome number when I first saw it. It wasn't until a little later that I learned about Swedish dials. Apparently they had their zero in what would be our 1 position, then the numbers ran round in sequence placing their 9 where our zero would be. So the Swedish 90000 would be equivalent to dialing 01111 on an American or British dial.

New Zealand adopted (and still uses) the emergency number 111, but they had an equally odd dial. The N.Z. dial has zero in the same place as British/American, but the remaining numbers are reversed, making their 111 exactly equivalent to our 999.

So in case there's any confusion:

USA/UK 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0
Sweden 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9
N.Z. 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0

Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290853 09/04/07 11:26 AM
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One of our local municipalities is having problems with their 911 system. they recently found out that, the manufacturer of their system was bought out by another company and they WILL NOT be in the 911 center business. So they are a bit worried if they start having problems. Luckly I don't not live in their coverage area, but it could affect a lot of people.


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Re: 70 years of British 999 service
#290854 09/07/07 02:16 AM
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One other point I should have mentioned is that while 911 is a complete myth, we do now have an alternate emergency number - 112 - which goes to the same operators.

This was introduced just a few years ago under orders from the European Union (excuse me while I spit!) which decided that we absolutely must have a common number throughout Europe, supposedly so that any foreign visitor knows what to dial.

Nobody has yet been able to answer one very simple question to my satisfaction: If a foreigner can't understand the simple instruction "Emergency dial 999" on the phone, how is he going to explain the emergency to the English-speaking operator anyway? :p

Nevertheless, we were stuck with having to implement 112 a few years ago, and as anticipated, the number of false calls to "999" due to misdialing, hookswitch fumbling, and faulty lines shorting across and pulsing 1-1-2 increased dramatically.

So much so, in fact, that BT went back and added a timeout. Dialing 999 still goes through immediately as before, but after dialing 112 there's about a 3-second delay. If any other digits (pulse or DTMF) are received during that timeout, the call is dumped. At least that has eliminated some of the false calls.


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