999 emergency service is 70 years old
World’s oldest emergency service handles 30 million calls each year
BT is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the UK’s 999 emergency service this weekend.
The service, the first of its kind in the world, was launched on June 30, 1937 after a fire at a London surgery led to the death of five women. This tragedy resulted in a committee being set up to look at how operators could easily identify emergency calls. After a short consultation the number 999 was settled on and the service was up and running. Glasgow became the second city to have the service in 1938 with it being extended to all major towns and cities by 1948.
The service has expanded rapidly since its inception when red lights and klaxons would signify an emergency call was being received. The first week of the service saw more than a thousand calls made. This has increased to around 560,000 calls a week. BT currently handles around 30 million calls a year from fixed and mobile phones, answering more than 95 per cent of calls within five seconds. BT operators receive many late night calls and the early hours of New Years Day is traditionally the busiest day when up to 12,000 calls can be received each hour.
To mark the platinum anniversary, BT is changing the moving colours on the top of the BT Tower to blue and white, to simulate that of a flashing light on an ambulance or fire engine. This week has also seen a series of regional events to mark the anniversary with Emergency Service representatives, MPs and other local dignitaries visiting their local BT 999 call centres.
BT chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, said: “I am extremely proud of the BT operators in the emergency service sector. They are a highly competent team working at the sharp end of one the most important communications services in the country. They have the satisfaction of knowing that countless lives have been saved over the last 70 years because of their professionalism and commitment.”
Around 40 per cent of calls answered do not involve actual requests for help. The majority of these are made by children playing with home phones or people accidentally dialling 999 or the European emergency number 112, often from a mobile handset in a pocket or handbag.
The proportion of calls connected is: Police 56 per cent, Ambulance 35 per cent, 8 per cent Fire Brigade and less than 1 per cent for Coastguard and Cave and Mountain rescue services.
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