back to article The number’s up for 999. And 911. And 000. And 111

It all began on 10th November 1935, when five women burned to death in a house fire in central London. A neighbor had tried to call the fire brigade on his home telephone, but had to wait in a queue for his local exchange. By the time he got through to the operator, it was too late. Incensed, he wrote a letter to The Times, …

  1. GreenJimll

    Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

    Using satellites is trading one risk for another though: if we have an orbital debris cascade your emergency system will be stuffed if it relies just on satellite communications provision.

    Emergency systems need to be resilient, and that means a variation on "defence in depth" with lots of back ups, alternate paths, different technologies, etc.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

      Or if people have an emergency in a tower block and can't can a decent view of the sky

      1. ChrisBedford

        Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

        1. My satellite TV service is interrupted by heavy rain, and that's using a 40cm fixed dish. How reliable is sat phone communication?

        2. How many satellites will it take to carry the number of calls that an emergency system will have to handle?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

          > How reliable is sat phone communication?

          Not at all. On a clear sky, flat countryside with no buildings, it can take up to 10 minutes to manage a reliable satellite connection, and that's with a dedicated satellite phone (2022 model). Never tried it in a city, but I guess it will be nigh to impossible.

          (For the record, Inmarsat.)

        2. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

          Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

          On point 2 : If there is a sudden flood of screams of *HELP*!" from Location A then one would think that *any* 999 replacment woul be just smart enough to #

          suspect that something odd was happening somewhere around that place.

          Dumping most of the cries for help and taking ony a small sample should suffice for any intelligent agent to get a vague picture of the reason behind the

          calls.

          Human brains were made to run on inadequate data, building a picture from fragments.

          On point 1: one simply needs better tech. :) This is the panacea. No matter what the issue, get better tech.

          An utterly independant, fully funded International Rescue service with their own "Thunderbird Five" and many, many relay satellites would be a good start.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

      > Using satellites is trading one risk for another though

      Irrelevant, the author has a habit of posting opinion pieces where Starlink is shoehorned as the solution to some problem humanity has.

      A previous one was amusingly suggesting Starlink technology enabled MIT Haystack’s future "Great Observatory for Long Wavelengths" despite them having nothing in common besides both "being in space"...

    3. GruntyMcPugh

      Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

      Yup, which is why I always pick a different mobile service provider to my wife, so we have resilience in case one becomes unavailable. Plus I have a low cost SIM only plan for my tablet, and I can make calls from that too.

      1. ianproc

        Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

        999 Service will work on any Mobile Network - if "your" network is out of service the phone will use any network it can find regardless.

    4. Catkin Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Until we manage to screw up with orbital debris

      The risk just isn't the same as it is with higher orbits. Small particles are so far within the atmosphere that they decay rapidly and orbital mechanics mean collisions won't put them higher throughout their orbit (with the majority of fragments ending up even lower at parts of their orbit). It's massively overstated straw clutching.

  2. Mishak Silver badge

    Satellites are a good idea if:

    1) A major solar event doesn't knock them out (it will, and may result in a huge number of emergency calls needed to be placed);

    2) Global powers* stop with their continuing attempts to militarise space and accept that blowing satellites up+ is a very, very silly thing to do.

    3) They can be secured.

    * I'll not name them, but everyone knows who they are.

    + The accidental destruction of satellites is a big enough problem on its own.

    1. Henry Hallan
      Mushroom

      Re: Satellites are a good idea if:

      Any major solar event that knocks out satellites is also likely to kill anything connected to a long wire -- which means POTS phones and exchanges.

      (Icon for the other event that has a similar result.)

      1. Mishak Silver badge

        Why the down vote?

        Something like the Carrington Event could take out POTS in wide areas - and, unlike in "the olden times", most equipment is more sensitive than relays, so repairs would be a massive undertaking.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Why the down vote?

          But most equipment that is interconnected over longer distances nowadays is likely to be connected over fiber, and the internal distances are unlikely to generate enough voltage during a Carrington even to kill things permanently. Thus our current infrastructure might well be far more robust than traditional POTS relay exchanges.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Why the down vote?

            Our current infrastructure is also dependent on the public electricity supply and that would be vulnerable.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Why the down vote?

              Our local CO has a natural gas genset that will recharge the battery as it keeps the lines up. There is a redundant diesel generator, just in case the natural gas gets cut during/after an earthquake. Yes, it's all tested regularly, and known good.

          2. Henry Hallan
            FAIL

            Re: Why the down vote?

            Long distance fibre relies on repeaters, which are powered by copper powerlines that run alongside the fibre itself. Those copper powerlines are long wires.

            Also, there are a lot of exchanges that are served by fibre but still use copper for the "last mile" connection. Again, long wires.

            Fibre itself is not affected, but the infrastructure is. Replacing every 10km repeater on a transatlantic fibre is essentially the same as re-laying the thing. And, if the relay cabinet on your street corner is fried by its power lines, the signalling technology is irrelevant.

            Hopefully, those of us wih HF radios, UPS and generators will have the good sense to unplug the antennas.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: Why the down vote?

              "Long distance fibre relies on repeaters, which are powered by copper powerlines that run alongside the fibre itself."

              Not anymore. Look up optical amplifiers and optical regenerators.

              1. Henry Hallan

                Re: Why the down vote?

                Sorry, no.

                Yes, the amplification is done optically, typically using a laser to provide the "pump" energy for the amplification -- but the laser is still powered electrically, via long wires.

                Since the induction that makes major solar storms so destructive involves distortion of the Earth's magnetic field, it affects anything on or near the Earth's surface: including overhead and buried cables, and cables at the bottom of the ocean.

                Long wires are vulnerable.

                1. HelpfulJohn Bronze badge

                  Re: Why the down vote?

                  Long wires like, say, just blue-skying this one, the National Power Grid with all of those dangling wires held up by pylons?

                  Those sorts of long wires?

                  I read something, somewhere that a big, scary Carrington Event (or something bigger, after all Sol is a *huge* bomb and she's active quite a lot of the time)

                  could de-Grid entire countries.

                  I'm not entirely sure about a single Nuke flashing an E.M.P. over some place like Ukraine but I don't supposed even a small one would be beneficial to

                  the Grid.

                  No Grid, no emergency damage control centres, so having a live 999 replacement wouldn't much matter.

          3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Why the down vote?

            far more robust than traditional POTS relay exchanges

            More robust than a bunch of Strowger switches? I hardly think so..

            1. nonpc

              Re: Why the down vote?

              They are ok until some bug gets into the system...

        2. Dagg Silver badge

          Re: Why the down vote?

          You don't even need that to take out POTS. Some idiot with a car and a lamp post or a backhoe...

          1. Mayday
            Devil

            Re: Why the down vote?

            I’m a comms guy. We call this phenomenon “Backhoe Attenuation”. The maritime/submarine cable versions is called “Anchor Attenuation”

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: Why the down vote?

            We've had vehicles take out telephone poles between us and the CO several times. Each time, the wires held up what's left of the pole long enough for $TELCO to hot-swap 'em over to the new pole. In all the years I've lived here, the POTS lines have never gone down. I can think of perhaps half a dozen poles that have needed replacing, though.

        3. J. R. Hartley

          Re: Why the down vote?

          The first rule of downvotes.

        4. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: Why the down vote?

          The Carrington Event was also an "Ignorance is Bliss" event -- nobody had any idea what/why/how about static buildup. We now know a lot better so the old POTS equipment was very robust and reliable. The problem we've had in recent years is taking things for granted -- if you grew up with a phone system that always worked you assume that this is the natural state of phone service. You then replace what was a well thought out, extremely robust and reliable system with something that's a bit piecemeal and often quite shaky. Everything continues to work -- more or less, but you can count on it less and less. Especially as it requires A/C power to work.

          I suppose we can count on radio amateurs to help out in a disaster. In the US this is formalized as ARES, the "Amateur Radio Emergency Service", and its integrated into disaster response plans for individual localities. For example, in our area we have dedicated EOCs -- Emergency Operation Centers -- in places like the Police Station, the Town Hall and County Offices. The equipment and organization is mostly unused but its tested monthly because you need it to work when you need it. The amateurs' part in all this is that they know how to run nets and have their own kit which can be used if necessary (mostly handheld VHF/UHF radios -- cheap, simple, reliable and decent range) and other kit should it be needed.

          .

        5. Rtbcomp

          Re: Why the down vote?

          I get on quite well with relays, we just seemed to click.

  3. EvaQ

    How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

    Here in the Netherlands, when you call 112 with your mobile, the operator will receive your location based on the antenna location, plus exact location based on Advanced Mobile Location

    Government info: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/alarmnummer-112/vraag-en-antwoord/plaats-nummer-bekend-bij-112-bellen

    112 is an EU standard, used in a lot more countries, even the UK. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_telephone_number#/media/File:Emergency_telephone_numbers_in_the_world.svg

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

      Location is also passed to 999/112 when you press the eCall button in a car and when you use allow ELS to be used on Android and iOS. In fact it was invented in the UK in 2014. Subscriber addresses are already obtained from landline calls. So location information already seems to be pretty comprehensive.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        "Subscriber addresses are already obtained from landline calls."

        Will that remain with VoIP?

        1. EvaQ
          Holmes

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          "Will that remain with VoIP?" Yes, but different:

          Here in the Netherlands, ISPs are legally obliged to pre-inform the government about the physical address of a VoIP-customer. So ISPs periodically (daily?) send a list of VoIP-numbers (probably also POTS numbers) plus their address (and customer name) to the government.

          So at the moment you call from your VoIP-connection, the government knows your address, based on the prefilled database.

          Same is true for IP address: daily list towards the government.

          1. katrinab Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

            But with VOIP, you don't have to call from your billing address. One of the benefits of VOIP is that you can access it from anywhere.

            1. Mishak Silver badge

              Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

              Yes - I have no POTS, buy my VoIP is registered (UK). However, I use my VoIP via an app on my mobile.

              Though I would probably use my mobile to make an emergency call, and would hopefully be able to give my location.

              1. imanidiot Silver badge

                Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

                But would you use your VoIP app on your mobile phone to call emergency services? It makes far more sense to use your mobile telephone as a telephone and use the phone network. Which will likely give a far better indication of where you are located

            2. EvaQ

              Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

              Yes, but ... by far the most VoIP-users use it from their home ... as provided by their ISP, on their modem.

              1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

                Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

                Hmm, got any numbers to back that up ?

                In a previous job VoIP was something we managed for clients (as well as using it ourselves). While some were "desk" phones and stayed put at the declared address, between us we had a significant number of users who would take a phone with them - I can't remember at what level it was configured, but I know our VoIP provider supported setting a 999 address. These days I work with an engineer who carries a "desk" phone with him that he plugs into the network, connects to his Skype account, and uses it's hands-free facility for meeting rooms that lack a provided conference phone.

              2. katrinab Silver badge
                Meh

                Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

                I use VOIP at home, but the VOIP account is registered to my work address, and work pays the bills.

                1. werdsmith Silver badge

                  Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

                  Yes, I have homeworker VOIP, which I never use.

                  If I had an emergency at home it would be the mobile phone first, as the POTs line has been deactivated by the provider - and moved over to the modem which I haven't bothered using.

        2. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          Yes it will. When we provide VoIP, we have to provide location information with each extension or number. The problem is that people move phones around. Or are mobile using VoIP

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          My company has many buildings spread across our town and we have one (very large) DDI number block assigned to the entire company. The emergency services can only register one address for our entire company. We try and keep that our security control room, but sometimes, some helpful soul manages to get it changed to their building. Fortunately, no one has (yet) died as a result.

        4. munnoch Bronze badge

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          Its possible, BT have an address database for all numbers and your voice service provider should update your entry with the service location. NOT the billing address because that would mean my wife's phone line would be associated with my home address and we live 50 miles apart from each other (we get on much better that way...).

          Andrews and Arnold allow you to contribute to the database on their maintenance screen for their VoIP numbers. Its a while since I looked at it but istr there being various caveats about BT not really taking it too seriously. Who could have guessed... A&A being legendary for being able to navigate BT's (or OR's) systems better than they can themselves.

        5. AndrueC Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          Yes (sort of). When I subscribed to my VoiP service I had to supply an address that was linked to the device. I forget what the wording was but it implied that was a legal requirement and me it clear it had to be the address where the device was located.

          I wrote 'sort of' because I don't think my VoIP box is tied to my IP address so if the box could be moved and would probably still work thus invalidating the location information.

        6. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          I worked somewhere that had gone VOIP, big company with offices across the UK. One day the plod turned up at head office and said a panic alarm had been pressed. The building was searched but there were only two panic buttons and both were fine. Turned out to be another office had a temp receptionist who had used the alarm by accident when attempting to let someone through the barriers. The VOIP joined the PSTN at head office and that was the location the emergency services would see when one was pressed. Plod were unamused to put it mildly.

        7. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. xyz Silver badge

      Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

      But but but ol' JRM and NF will want a carrier pigeon on every corner (with a crown stamped on the birdies' asses and a blue lamp on their heads) or a system of flags and watchtowers.

      The big issue for me is phoning the emergency services in a different country. Example, I'm in country B and my mum manages to squeak a brief call before keeling over in country A. How do I dial 112, 999 or whatever? And as for the satellite idea, I can't even get a GPS fix in the woods, so sod all chance of making a quick HELP yelp.

      Anyhoo, back in the old days people only had landlines, so you wouldn't be calling from the middle of nowhere anyway, so this is really a 21st century problem. Maybe we need an app for that.

      1. Xalran

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        * I can't even get a GPS fix in the woods, so sod all chance of making a quick HELP yelp. *

        If you are calling from a landline, the operator will know your exact location...

        If you are calling from a mobile phone, the operator will know more or less your location... Even if your phone can't get a GPS fix.

        It would take me more time than I have to explain in detail how a mobile phone network can locate with precision a specific mobile without using GPS.

        So I'll do it in a short way.

        There's two main ways : CGI+TA and Radio Triangulation.

        CGI+TA : Cell Global Identity + Timing Advance.

        This way uses the fact that a mobile network knows where the Antennas are located and what is their coverage. Using the antenna as the base, the network sends a signal and calculate the time shift between the sent signal and the received acknowledge, this gives a distance from the antenna. it's rough, a bit dirty, but it gives a general location within a few 100m in the area covered by the antenna ( when the antenna cover several kms ).

        Radio Triangulation :

        This one needs a network built with that capacity. a mobile phone connects on the best signal received, but he usually receive signal from 2 or more antennas at the same time.

        Again, the location of all the antennas is known, and using that fact and which antennas receive the mobile phone signal an area can be determined where the mobile phone is located.

        ( obviously the more antennas, the smaller the area, and the higher the signal is means that the antenna is nearer )

        1. Stork Silver badge

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          All very nice.

          Ten years ago or so, we needed an ambulance for a guest. Our street had no name (as U2 sang, common in rural Portugal) and the responders no GPS, so the solution was to meet them at the main road.

          We’ve since moved and now have a street name, but no number as that implies mail delivery at the house. Progress, though.

          Anyway, I wonder what happens if you call emergency services and is on a network in a neighbouring country?

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        The example is a little weird. If you're mum isn't well, she could call the emergency services herself. Language might be a problem but it would for you trying to make the call for her as well.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          The example is indeed weird, for I don't think it has ever been possible to call another country's emergency number, no matter which way (old-fashioned landline, mobile, whatever). All you could hope to be able to call is some specific telephone number, for instance a local ambulance service, hospital, neighbor, or some such.

          Being able to call another countries' emergency service would mean the end if it, because prank calling it would instantly become the favorite pastime of jerks worldwide...

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

            From a mobile you can, near borders you often get a better signal from the other side, in particular if a river forms the border.

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

              > near borders you often get a better signal from the other side

              Not the same: From your phone's perspective, you're actually on the other side of the border.

    3. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

      Does that work with wifi calling?

      You would usually use that when there is no phone signal.

      Wifi location is a thing, and while it is usually pretty accurate, accuracy isn't guaranteed.

      GPS/GLONASS is the other option, but that requires a clear view of the sky.

      1. that one in the corner Silver badge

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        > Wifi location is a thing, and while it is usually pretty accurate, accuracy isn't guaranteed.

        WiFi location - is that still solely reliant on the Google and Apple snooping that was so contentious when we found out they were doing it? There was a lot of advice about regularly changing your setup SSID with the hope of a little privacy.

        WiFi hotspots can move around - busses, taxis, coaches, trains, planes, festivals and events in fields - how does it cope wth those things?

        Serious question - as far as I'm aware I have never used WiFi based location & haven't looked to see how it works nowadays (FWIW on WiFi at the moment, in England, and as indicated by websites and Google Maps, geolocation has me leaping from Dublin to Bangor, Ulster today).

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          I haven't tried it recently, but back when the original Samsung Galaxy S was the latest phone model available, I tethered my iPod touch to it, then opened Google Maps on my iPod. I was on a train at the time, and I could see myself moving along the map on the iPod just about as well as on the Samsung with GPS on it.

        2. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          WiFi location is not much use.

          Years ago, one of my friends was at a Google Event in the UK.

          He connected to the available wifi network on his phone (as building was doing a good job of blocking his mobile signal and GPS).

          At the time we both played Ingress on our phones (location based VR). When in a break, he fired up Ingress it showed his location as San Francisco - with no mobile or GPS signal in building it had obviously fallen back to wifi "location" & I'm guessing that either Google uses a common set of names on their network kit at events or maybe that kit had been used in the states.

          I have had similar situations turning my phone on in Midlands rail stations, phone could not get GPS or mobile so WiFi location used & would often show a different train station (at that time a lot of the Midlands stations had wifi networks of the same name ) - Generally Birmingham (no surprise given that's the biggest station in the Midlands & probably had most WiFi repeaters so would be "top ranked" location for that AP name on the Google snooping databases)

      2. Xalran

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        Wifi is tied to a hotspot...

        That hotspot is either tied to a landline or a 4G/5G Mobile Wifi box. In both case the location can be defined. Even if the Wifi hotspot is in a bus, a train or a ship and moving.

        Wifi is very short range ( less than 50m ), so locating the hotspot means you have the location. And the hotspot will always be tied to some network to reach internet, either through a cable ( copper, fiber ) or airwaves ( radio signal ) .

        for areas where there's no network around ( landlines or mobile ) the only solution is satellite and there's several companies offering a location service ( for example ARGOS in France, they used to provide ermergency beacons 30 years ago for sailships and expeditions in remote parts of the world but they seems to have branched out and now provide near real time tracking of more or less anything you want to track ).

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          > . In both case the location can be defined

          But how? Isn't that still just relying on the "snooping" that Apple and Google do?

          > Even if the Wifi hotspot is in a bus, a train or a ship and moving

          Again, how - and even "really"? Realtime "snooping"?

          1. Xalran

            Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

            How ? First you need to parse, assimilate and understand this important fact :

            Your wifi hotspot is connected to Internet either by a fixed line ( xDSL or Fiber ) or a Mobile hotspot ( Fixed Wireless Access Point )

            Fixed line : the operator knows the address where the line ends up. Ergo, the Location is known, it's the address.

            Mobile network : I explained it in another post.... Mobile Positioning Systems which uses basic GSM functions to locate a phone. ( yes it works in 2G )

            No Apple or Google Snooping. Just basic use of the network and knowledge of how it's deployed.

            And yes it can be done in realtime... so a moving FWA hotspot can be located in realtime.

            Again look for my other post where I explain in a short version how it's done. It's in the *How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?* thread.

            Basically, since the inception of GSM, the network knows where you are, it has always known, that's something mandatory for the GSM ( 2/3/4/5G ) network to forward the calls you receive to your phone and to a lesser extend the ones you make towards their destination.

            The only way for a mobile network to be unable to locate you is when your phone is powered down or out of range of any antenna ( and then it still knows where you were the last time the phone was powered up or in range of an antenna )

      3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        I'm trying to think of external locations where you might have wifi but no phone signal. Wifi calling that is supported by the operator is generally used inside building where phone signals may be weaker. It will either have the location of the cell if the phone is logged in or of the wifi box, so definitely good enough.

    4. Xalran

      Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

      That's something that has been active for more than 20 years now in all the EU.

      While the operator does not receive the "exact location" as the location probable error is based on the cell size, in cities, it's good enough to be considered the "exact location".

      In the countryside with kilometer spanning cells the location can be off by a few 100 meters, which can be bad, but is still usually good enough... but that's not always the case.

      Now for the worst case, another system has been developed here and there that uses the fact that nowadays everybody has a smartphone and all the smartphones have a GPS chip and usually some data plan.

      The operator, if he has difficulties location the caller will send a SMS to the caller with a link, following the link will lead to a website that is going to trigger the GPS chip to sent the location of the phone.

      a mobile phone, in the open countryside and a GPS chip has something less than a 5m location error margin... That's good enough too to be considered an "exact location" when it comes to send some help.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        If the caller has a GPS enabled phone there's also the (bad) option of What3Words or (far better) Open Location Code (Google plus code).

        1. heyrick Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          What three words might depend upon the scale of the problem... Oh bloody hell, Oh fuck me, Run arrrgh arrrgh, etc.

          1. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge
            WTF?

            Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

            > What three words might depend upon the scale of the problem... Oh bloody hell, Oh fuck me, Run arrrgh arrrgh, etc.

            For that you need Four King Maps https://www.fourkingmaps.co.uk/

        2. Xalran

          Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

          I didn't know that What3Words and at first look it's nightmarish.

          I'll stick to the good old map and as accurately as possible giving my location according to terrain features on said map that I can see and having a bright red vest at hand for easy location by the incoming chopper. ( in case you're guessing : been there, done that... more than once... each time it took less than 2 minutes for the chopper to locate me. )

          1. Ferry Michael

            Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

            What3Words aka LotsOfLetters - encoding of lat/long into W3W doesn't solve anything. The actual lat/long will be sent as part of the AML emergency call. The W3W is almost unintelligible judging by 30% error rate on giving the end of the queue for the late queen, and all the problems with similar sounding words, accents, plurals etc. The workaround of spelling out with phonetics just makes it a "lot of random letters" instead of 3 words

          2. ThatOne Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

            > I didn't know that What3Words and at first look it's nightmarish.

            Same here, and same conclusion. It sounds like a good idea for people who's heads might explode if asked for longitude/latitude, but extremely badly implemented.

            For instance they could had easily implemented a simple algorithm to prevent similar sounding names being used on adjacent (or even close) squares. Any similar sounding name should only appear hundreds of kilometers away, making any confusion unlikely. It's not like the dictionary is lacking words... That was apparently way too sophisticated for them, or the intern didn't know how to code it.

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: How about 112 and Advanced Mobile Location?

        I had to make an emergency call a few years back (saw a field fire and no obvious people around). The dialler, as soon as it saw I was calling 112 turned on location services and got a fix on where I was.

        So Google saying that "locate your phone" won't work if you turn off GPS is them being data fetishising dicks. The user setting can be overridden when it needs to be.

  4. Andy Non Silver badge

    "if you can see the sky, you're good to go"

    So if someone keels over onto the floor having a heart attack or other severe crisis, they've got to drag themselves outside to get a signal for the satellite?

    Similarly an elderly person who's lying at the bottom of the stairs with a broken leg. Hmmm.

    Trapped inside a burning building? Tough luck.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "if you can see the sky, you're good to go"

      Flat battery? Equally tough luck.

  5. Jemma

    Multiple redundancy

    I keep a landline, mobile, duplicate email addresses and so on.

    Which means when I need to get in touch with the NHS I can get through using 5 different methods on any given day (incl my carers mobile). Not that the No Hope Service are any use but I can talk to 111 so they can confuse uncontrolled bleeding from a cancer necrosis with flu...

    I talk to people who say, I'm ditching my landline because money, and I say, don't, because when something happens the mobile network will be locked up and I quote "I'll just connect to a different mobile tower" *sigh* and this from a person using a Hubitat smart home...

    There are ways of setting the "red light system" up or at least its modern equivalent. If a mobile calls 999 for example, every mobile must send a given signal to trigger the exchange emergency pathway and send its location as well in an agreed format. If those functions aren't baked into the firmware then you don't sell phones in that country etc.

    It isn't even hard. But you can guarantee it'll take years to come up with something hyper complex that's as flakey as a lepers crotch..

    And I'm just waiting for some generation cv19 skriptie cretins to try and take down the emergency system, because it will happen.

    And ANY electronic attack on any company, organisation, charity, surgery, clinic or hospital or anything in the medical supply chain should be a capital offence with the punishment being execution in interesting ways (pulled apart by wild hedgehogs was an appealing suggestion).

    The more ways you have to contact the emergency services the less emergency any given emergency is.

    As the saying goes...

    It's better to have and not need, than need and not have.

    1. tellytart

      Re: Multiple redundancy

      The mobile network shouldn't get locked up. the GSM specification means that emergency calls are specifically flagged in the communications between the mobile and the base station, and if the base station is busy, it must drop an active call to allow it to service the emergency call.

      So in theory, emergency calls from mobiles will always be able to be made.

      Also, around the turn of the millennium, because I was working for a radio station deemed critical infrastructure, my mobile was put on the system as a high priority device - after all, if it all went wrong on NYE 2000, they needed to get hold of me to go into the station. Oddly enough, for several years until my number was removed from that list, I never had any problems phoning friends/relatives or texting around midnight every new years eve!

      1. Xalran

        Re: Multiple redundancy

        *So in theory, emergency calls from mobiles will always be able to be made.*

        Technically, they are... you don't even need to unlock a phone or have a SIM card in it. You just need power.

        At least in Europe. Pick up a phone, if it's not powered up power it up and dial. if it's powered up dial.

        It does not matter if there's some signal from you Mobile Network or not... as long as there's some signal from a mobile network ( any mobile network ) the call will get through.

        1. NXM Silver badge

          Re: Multiple redundancy

          This should be taught in school

          My brother-in-law keeled over with a heart attack a few years ago. A lorry driver who was with him lost several minutes because his phone had no service and he thought he couldn't dial for an ambulance. In fact he could have, because there was service from other providers. The driver eventually found a neighbour and an ambulance and first responders arrived to help my brother-in-law, but he was dead on arrival at hospital.

          I don't blame the driver, I blame the mobile providers for not telling people, all the time, that you can call 999 even if it seems like there's no mobile coverage where you are.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: Multiple redundancy

            Mine phone only says "No service" if there's genuinely none, from any network. If there is service, but from another provider, it shows "Emergency Calls Only". I thougt that was standard.

          2. mutt13y

            Re: Multiple redundancy

            You can dial 999 even if there is no SIM

            Plus when you dial 999 it will boot other calls off a mast to process the emergency call if its overloaded.

            But yea its better if the handset explicitly says "Emergency calls only"

        2. khjohansen
          Headmaster

          Re: Multiple redundancy

          Technically it's "Dial Dial Dial" - will get you emergency services by any phone w/power, on any available network.

        3. hammy434

          Re: Multiple redundancy

          You do need an active SIM card to dial 999. I know some android phones claim emergency calls are available with no SIM, but it’s not true in the UK. You can try it if you want to check, it won’t connect.

      2. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Multiple redundancy

        If it's a big enough emergency, there might not be any non-emergency calls to drop while the cell is still overwhelmed.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Multiple redundancy

          That is true, but if there are so many emergency calls that it is taking up all of the network, you're likely talking ten or more times as many calls as there are people to answer the calls and talk to the people about what the emergency is. The emergency call system is great for even somewhat large emergencies, but if the city is carpet bombed, it's not going to do much. The emergency services will already know that something bad has happened and be reacting to it in some way, and they don't have the resources to respond to every person in trouble in that situation.

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Multiple redundancy

          In that case, only one needs to get through to report the emergency.

      3. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Multiple redundancy

        I think what happens with the mobile network depends on what the emergency is.

        For example, 9/11 showed that putting all the comms antennas on the biggest building wasn't a great idea if that building (or the unexpected lack of it) was the problem.

      4. Ferry Michael

        Re: Multiple redundancy

        The reserved capacity for emergency calls was true for landlines too.

        I remember the bug report for telephone voting on "New Faces" TV programme when that turned out not to be the case due to a configuration error on an exchange where the overload threshold was not detected.

    2. Helcat

      Re: Multiple redundancy

      For me: I can't rely on mobile signal around here, so a landline is essential. VoIP is okay, so is wi-fi calling IF it's available and works. Shame it's not as reliable as a hard connection (diggers excluded)

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Multiple redundancy

        I can't rely on mobile signal around here

        For me, Voda signal is pants (work phone is Voda so gets forwarded to my home mobile).. Anything O2-related (directly or MVNO) works fine but data is iffy (which doesn't bother me - wifi cures that). We're a next to a fairly big park so, when there are events there (or just a nice summers day that brings out the skin-cancer lemmings) then the ability to use the mobile or data gets significantly worse.

        Fortunately, Sky Mobile does wifi calling so, as long as my fibre isn't being borked by the CityFibre installers, I should be good..

    3. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Multiple redundancy

      I talk to people who say, I'm ditching my landline because money, and I say, don't

      Given that BT is turning off the POTS (phone service on landlines) in like 2 years it's not as if it matters much. (and yes, I don't think that BT should have been allowed to do that to save the maintenance costs)

      1. IGotOut Silver badge

        Re: Multiple redundancy

        You do know BT is years behind many other countries when it comes to VoIP only roll outs?

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Multiple redundancy

          My landline has been VoIP only (over twisted pair) since around 2010.

          Sometime around the end of the year, the twisted pair will cease working and it'll be done by shoving light down the line. And, note, providing power will become my problem. So, home on fire, big lightning strike... Got a phone line, got nothing to plug into it.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Multiple redundancy

            Sometime around the end of the year, the twisted pair will cease working

            At which point, I'll stop paying for it. Which is a shame because I've got a number that's nice and easy to remember..

            1. Robert Moore

              Re: Multiple redundancy

              Have the number ported to your cell phone. I wish I had thought of it with my old number.

    4. AndrueC Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Multiple redundancy

      I talk to people who say, I'm ditching my landline because money, and I say, don't, because when something happens the mobile network will be locked up and I quote "I'll just connect to a different mobile tower" *sigh* and this from a person using a Hubitat smart home...

      Another issue is that if some scrote breaks in to your house and burgles you they might take your computer and your mobile phone but they are unlikely to bother taking a an old landline handset. Thus when you get in/wake up you still have a means of contacting people to sort the mess out.

  6. devin3782

    Looks like enshittification strikes again. So landlines use the internet and in an emergency it won't work, imagine what would happen if a major catastrophe did indeed befall us.

    https://pluralistic.net/2023/01/21/potemkin-ai/#hey-guys

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "imagine what would happen if a major catastrophe did indeed befall us."

      Make that "will", "when" and "does".

    2. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

      imagine what would happen if a major catastrophe did indeed befall us

      Many don't need to imagine, they've had a taste of what was in hindsight entirely predictable - and since the report was published, I think things have only got worse. Well worth a read, and I'll pretty much guarantee that even the best of us will find things in there and do the "stroke your chin while saying 'hmm, hadn't thought of that'" thing - I certainly did.

      Now, that was a relatively contained area and it was possible for the lecky people to draft in generators from all over the country to get people's power back on. Now imagine if it was a wider problem, there simply would not be the generators to handle that. I won't say anything about how, but without thinking too hard I could see ways for a hostile actor to bring down the grid nationally (or more or less). Mind you, it does sometimes seem like we (collectively, or at least our government) seem intent on pushing even harder towards a grid that can shut down on it's own.

  7. Julian 8 Silver badge

    Not forgetting the number of "error" calls to 999 from Android phones. Press the power 5 times quickly and it will dial.

    I have done it myself. Did I press the power button 5 times - I must have, but only because I was trying to unlock my phone with a thumb and the phone did not recognise my thumb print and I tried again, and again, and again.

    I didn't know about this feature until it dialed. I think Google need to think about this as at least 1 phone manufacturer has the finger print sensor on the power button and they are not as great as they wo9uld like to think

    1. Jemma

      Yeah, the poor little piggies are getting a bit steamed about how many butt calls and power button calls they're getting. But I have vet little sympathy. They're very little use whether there's an emergency or not, and when you actually call them with an emergency they're too busy speed gunning and running "Deep Throat" nonces on the QT...

      They should be grateful - the mistaken calls at least help keep them awake..

      1. IGotOut Silver badge
        FAIL

        @Jemma. Careful, you're making Facebook experts look intelligent.

      2. heyrick Silver badge
        WTF?

        Okay, I understand each word individually. Strung together like that? Word salad...

        1. WolfFan

          Jemma has a problem with authority in general and the police in particular.

          1. Ian Mason

            Jemma has a problem working out that the Ambulances, Fire Service, Coastguard and, in some places, Mountain Rescue are all also on 999. Any woman who lives in the Metropolitan Police district has a right to have a problem with the police.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I have a problem with authority and the police, but I also understand that each butt dial or each fake call ties up a VERY understaffed call centre service of professionals and DOES in real life cost lives, especially these days with their budget cuts

  8. Ol'Peculier
    Mushroom

    Many years ago my local telephone exchange burnt down, and BT went on a big skip hunt finding old Strowger kit to install, rather than take the opportunity to update it to System X. Which took quite a while.

    But anyway...

    What we ended up with was police cars dotted all around the town, so if anybody had an emergency they could bolt down to the street corner and get help there.

    The other alternative was for those with a mobile - which wasn't many - was to go to the large hill overlooking the bay and hope to connect to a mast that was wired to a different exchange.

    Surprisingly, we all seemed to get through it.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Police cars around. Bobbies on the beat. That's what's different compared to these days.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ukrainian war case study

    Be prepared with a resilient 999 and radio channels. Any black swan might happen. Not only a war.

    1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

      Re: Ukrainian war case study

      Indeed, in the early days when we were getting reports about Russia targeting infrastructure, and the engineers constantly patching it up again, my thoughts were along the lines of "that's a bunch of engineers who deserve respect". Similarly with their internet where I believe they have a fairly diverse system.

  10. jake Silver badge

    Size.

    "At least it's a uniform countrywide service, unlike the US 911 system, which is barely a system at all but a patchwork of uncoordinated local provisions."

    The US is physically a trifle larger than the UK, and there are barriers to stringing wire efficiently. We have things called "mountains" (not to be confused with the little hills of the same name that you lot walk to the top of on a summer's day), and bloody great cracks in the ground, usually with water running in them, and other hazards to to worry about including wildlife. And the distances involved nationally are rather large. To say nothing of the sheer number of potential callers. Thus each individual area set up it's own 911 call center, rather than route it all through one overloaded location, assuming the lines stayed up between here and there. It would do little good to route a call for a guy who fell off a roof in Los Angeles through Schenectady, New York ... even if pulling the wire was a breeze.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Size.

      "We have things called "mountains" (not to be confused with the little hills of the same name that you lot walk to the top of on a summer's day"

      You know the Alps are higher than the Rockies?

      Then again, your probably struggling with the metric measurements.

      Oh a tiny place called China want a word about your post as well.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Size.

        "You know the Alps are higher than the Rockies?"

        Last time I checked the Alps were in Europe. You Brits aren't.

        "Oh a tiny place called China want a word about your post as well."

        I know the Chinese are buying the UK piecemeal, but that's hardly something to be proud of.

    2. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: Size.

      So you're saying the US telecoms intrastructure is so useless that someone in LA can't call someone in Schenectady?

      Because I really don't think that's what you're trying to say, yet that's exactly what you're implying when you suggest it wouldn't be possible for an emergency call placed in the former to be routed to a call handling centre in the latter... You don't need a completely independent comms network handling the emergency calls, you just need whatever networks you already have in place to be able to route those calls to the most appropriate handling location.

      And ignoring the deeply condescending tone of your reply (yes thanks, I suspect the average European has a far better grasp of US geography than the average USAian has of European geography, so away with your attempts to educate us as to the difficulties you face over there and how trivial ours are in comparison), that's not even what we're talking about in the first place, because that's not how the 999 system works over here. It's not just one giant centralised call centre trying to handle everything, we also have more localised (perhaps not *quite* as localised as in the US, but stil moreso than you're implying here) call handling centres which usually deal with the calls originating in a given area, but if needed then the integrated nature of the system means that calls can be passed onto other centres to be dealt with.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Size.

        Honestly, I suspect the American problem might be the telcos, and their inability to play nicely with each other.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Size.

          "Honestly, I suspect the American problem might be the telcos, and their inability to play nicely with each other."

          The 911 system came about when Ma Bell was a (near) monopoly, so that wasn't really an issue. It wasn't set up to be a national service, mostly because of the size of the place, but also because the usual suspects balked at the cost and started yelling about "State's Rights". So even though the 911 number was reserved nation-wide, and the switch gear knows to keep such calls local, not everybody got the system immediately. Each individual region had to pay for their own system, so the roll-out was slow with multiple generations of hardware in use. However, the various call centers do have communications capability between each other in places where it makes sense. Here in the Bay Area the emergency folks can co-ordinate (mostly) seemlessly. But it would make little sense to include the Sacramento area or the San Diego area or Los Angeles in that. With 440 (last time I checked) 911 call centers in California alone it would become unwieldy if each one had to talk to even 10 percent of the total.

          So while it looks strange to folks coming from a physically much smaller country, it actually makes perfect sense here. And yes, once in a while there are edge cases where it would be handy if two (mostly) incommunicative call centers had better info sharing capability. We are getting there. Fortunately that kind of emergency is few and far between.

          Things like wildfires are handled with their own communications systems, where the local folks in charge can communicate with crews coming in from all over the nation (and Canada, occasionally... and we send crews North to help them, too). Same for the Coastguard.

      2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        Comm System Constraints

        So you're saying the US telecoms intrastructure is so useless that someone in LA can't call someone in Schenectady?

        I don't think they are saying that. However ... it used to be in the US that many more calls could be handled "locally" than could be handled cross-country, because the limiting factor was the number of wires which ran across the country. These were created and serviced by AT&T Long Lines. If you tried to make an ordinary long-distance call during a busy time, you frequently would hear the 120-Hertz, nah-nah-nah-nah "All Circuits Busy" tone.

        Now there are many fibre and microwave links across the US. The AT&T monopoly there is gone, and the new monopolists are cable TV/comms companies and ISPs. Cell phone calls, both local and long-distance, are dirt-cheap there ... but at the price of audio fidelity.

        While visiting a major metropolitan city in the US, I borrowed a cellphone from a friend there. When I was on "local" calls, many times I could not understand the person on the other end, due to compressor artifacts and frequent, random audio drop-outs. I'd hate to have to summon emergency services over such a connection.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Comm System Constraints

          While visiting a major metropolitan city in the US, I borrowed a cellphone from a friend there. When I was on "local" calls, many times I could not understand the person on the other end, due to compressor artifacts and frequent, random audio drop-outs. I'd hate to have to summon emergency services over such a connection.

          I was living in the USA in the 90s and this was a CDMA thing.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Comm System Constraints

            "I was living in the USA in the 90s and this was a CDMA thing."

            Yeah, when cell phone use exploded, the system was frequently overloaded in high-density urban areas. This has mostly been fixed.

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: Size.

        "So you're saying the US telecoms intrastructure is so useless that someone in LA can't call someone in Schenectady?"

        No, I never said that.

        "when you suggest it wouldn't be possible for an emergency call"

        I did not say that, either.

        "And ignoring the deeply condescending tone of your reply"

        Then spit the hook, little fishy.

        1. ChrisC Silver badge

          Re: Size.

          "No, I never said that."

          I know you never said that, which is why the VERY NEXT line of my comment started with "Because I really don't think that's what you're trying to say".

          "I did not say that, either."

          "It would do little good to route a call for a guy who fell off a roof in Los Angeles through Schenectady, New York ... even if pulling the wire was a breeze."

          You're right in that routing a 911 call from LA to a handling centre in NY wouldn't be much use (weird edge case scenarios aside), but that's merely a question of how the 911 call handling system would operate at a functional level, which isn't the point of order here.

          However, by throwing in the "even if..." closer to that statement, you've turned that comment from simply querying the sense of routing such a call at a functional level, into a clear implication that routing the call wouldn't currently even be possible at the physical level.

    3. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Size.

      >> a patchwork of uncoordinated local provisions

      > rather than route it all through one overloaded location

      There is such a thing as "coordinated local systems" - is there actually *anywhere* that just uses a single location, overloaded or not? Okay, The Isle Of Man has its single ESJCR...

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Size.

        Isle Of Man

        Which has (outside of the TT season) a smaller population than Swindon..

    4. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Size.

      I used to live in a part of northern Michigan that was getting ready to deploy Enhanced 911 in the 1990s. The sticking point? Addresses. Hardly anyone had street addresses, just fire numbers, and E911 relies on mileage-based addressing schemes. So they had to give everyone proper addresses first.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Size.

      I Was involved in a roll out of some emergency stuff and we had a US software provider. .shockingly it didn't work as advertised & the project got canned. What really surprised me though was even in a City like New York, the precincts are essentially autonomous so even though the NYPD have X000's of officers, at no point do their systems have to track them all and know where they are. They also struggle with Height in their systems - so they might with some luck get the right address, but they still won't know which floor.

      Unlike the british systems where the software will know more or less where every officer, car & truck is (more or less) for the whole organisation.

    6. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Size.

      The US is physically a trifle larger than the UK

      You also have a lot of rabidly independent states who would rather die than have a system that links in with the [state of opposite political colour] next door.

      And everything relies on ISPs and telcos who have the only goal of making more money by hook or by crook (often the latter)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Size.

        Yes, politics is stupid. This is true the world over.

        There are horrific tales of consumer woe for any billion dollar company that sells goods or services to the general public regardless of where you live.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Size. ignore the usual Brit sniping..

      Never underestimate the supercilious pretensions of Brits (and other Europeans) who think they know everything about the US because of all the stuff they saw on the telly and maybe a week or two's holidays in NYC or Florida. My home state is twice the size of the UK and has large areas that are both cell phone and sat phone dead zones because there are covered by bloody big mountains and very deep valleys / canyons. Where I live it aint really a mountain until you get over 5,000 feet and the real mountains start at 10,000 feet. We've got a few hundred of those. But when you dial 911 (when you get a dial tone / signal) it gets to the local dispatcher. One way or another. If it takes a while then you are so far from an urban area that emergency help will take a while to get where you are anyway. Like a few hours drive away. Or an hour plus flying time. By helicopter.

      Oh yeah. 911. I can dial anywhere from Texas to Alaska to Maine to Oregon and it works. How many emergency numbers are there in Europe. 10? 15? 112 mostly works. Except when it doesn't not. Then there is the fact that almost no one out side the UK uses 999. Sounds like a great way to run an emergency notification system.

      As for the op-ed piece. Mostly bloody stupid. Zero redundancy. Single points of failure etc, The current haphazard system has more redundancy. As anyone who has lived through a major natural disasters know. I'm talking real disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, not the pathetic little things that are called disasters in the UK. Like the wrong type of snow.

      I have met plenty of Americans over the decades who will readily admit their ignorance about Europe and listen. I've yet to meet a Brit (or a Western European) who ever did the same about the US. Yet their ignorance of the subject in question has been just as great.

      Just an observation by a Brit who has known the US since before most of the down-voters were born. And lived there almost as long.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Size. ignore the usual Brit sniping..

        "ignore the usual Brit sniping"

        Oh, c'mon ... sometimes having a quick troll is good for the soul.

        Even if it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

  11. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Satellite is the right answer

    But not making everybody carry a bulky phone that can call a satellite. What about GPS? Every smartphone can already receive it, so all you need is a network protocol that passes that GPS location on as part of an emergency call. And as the phones are smart, let the user configure what number they want to use as the emergency number on their phone, and let the phone handle the correct number for the current country's network.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Satellite is the right answer

      GPS location plus an estimate of accuracy would be good. If the GPS says it's accurate to ~ five metres then just send a single vehicle, if it's 5km then get the cavalry ready for a search

      Space technology icon -->

    2. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Satellite is the right answer

      " let the user configure what number they want to use as the emergency number on their phone, and let the phone handle the correct number for the current country's network"

      That's certainly a good idea

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Satellite is the right answer

        iOS already has a concept of an "emergency call" which just requires a slider to activate. It will call 911 in the US, 999 in the UK and so forth.

    3. DS999 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      The UK isn't already passing GPS info?

      This has been happening in the US for ages! Despite the patchwork of 911 calling centers we have here we got this done. Can it really be true that the UK hasn't despite the advantage of a single integrated nationwide 999 system??

      The only gotcha is that if you call 911 from a cell phone that doesn't have active service (no SIM or an expired SIM) it doesn't pass location info, but that's an issue for a tiny tiny fraction of 911 calls.

  12. roger 8

    when i worked for good old BT.I was told the reason its 999 is that no UK number started with a 9. so even if you managed to only do 99 you call would still go through after a few seconds even on the old analog switching system.

    if you had a silent 999 call you asked the caller for a 55 keypress or nay sound. If you got anything you put the call through to the police. Even if you thought you might have heard something.

    even in the days of analog mobile phones we knew which cell tower the call was connected to. rumour was dire to the many antennae's on the mast and signal diveristy they would know which direction. that bit could only be done by cell company

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In the olden days if you wanted to call, say, Maldon from Chelmsford you could either dial the full Maldon STD code (01621) or the local code - a two digit code beginning with 9 (91 from memory). When they designed the 999 system they used 9s because of these local codes. The first 9, if you were on a local exchange (e.g. Maldon), would take you to the main exchange and then the second and third 9 would get you to the emergency operator. If you were on the main exchange then, as you say, two 9's would get the emergency operator.

      The local codes were open to abuse after a few pints. If the local code from A to B was 91 and from B to C was 93 and from C to A was 97 you could sit there dialling 919397 repeatedly until the handset went beeeeeeeep indicating that you'd used up all the available lines between the three exchanges and locked everyone out of the system. Fortunately these were the days of the rotary dial, so you soon got bored of doing it.

      .

      1. 42656e4d203239 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        >> you could sit there dialling 919397

        Likewise, when IDD was being introduced, it got put in some odd out of the way exchanges (say Shaftesbury), but if you were in an non IDD area (Salisbury Central) you could dial the remote exchange STD (0747), then 00<whatever> and, if an engineer didn't catch you (back in the days when exchange engineers were people who hung around the mechanical exchanges waiting for things to go titsup) bob was your auntie. Ask me how I know? nah it's obvious!

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Boffin

      I was told that the choice of 9 was because that was the most reliably located digit on a rotary dial phone that wasn't 0 (which had a special purpose) and being 9 pulses was unlikely to have false calls.

      America took the same idea but used 1 as the second and third digit as it would dial quicker than 9 (11 pulses & 3 inter-digit pauses vs 27 pulses & 3 inter-digit pauses) but would require relocating the dialling finger.

    3. BenDwire Silver badge
      Boffin

      And I was told that 9 was chosen because you could locate the rotary dial's finger stop in the dark / smoke, put two fingers in the adjacent holes and hey presto you've found the 9.

      Who knows if this was true, or just folklore within BT. At this point I must confess to a long career in the telecoms industry, and have been involved in the design of many bits of exchange kit back in the day. Mobile telephone exchange in the back of a Landrover anyone?!

      1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

        I think there's an element of truth to all those suggestions.

        Back when the system was designed, a common problem was wind wiggling the overhead wires, causing momentary connections, and hence false dialling. So something like 111 would suffer from false calls due to that. The chance of the wind dialling 9 is "rather slim", doing it 3 times on the row, not worth bothering about slim.

        Once you've eliminated the short digits, then as suggested, it makes sense to use one that's easy to locate - so 0 or 9.

        And then you had to consider the practicalities of introducing this to the existing setups, which included modifying pay phones to allow the emergency number to be dialled without putting any money in - as well as not clashing with the plethora of routing codes* (though not sure how far you could actually dial yourself back then). I certainly remember the phone book having a whole section on local routing codes* back in the 70s/80s.

        * Prior to the introduction of the first electronic (and computer controlled) exchanges, routing was done quite literally by wiring pairs of wires from an output of a selector in one exchange to an inbound connection on a neighbouring exchange. Thus dialling a certain combination of digits would connect you to an inter-exchange link instead of ringing someone's phone, and then you got to dial a number into that remote exchange to ring someone's phone. In the absence of all the look up tables etc. possible with computer control, the codes literally translated into controls for the mechanical selectors of the day.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          IIRC it wasn't necessary to wait for electronic exchanges to be able to do away with direct routing. Crossbar mechanical exchanges had translation registers which could map dialled digits into a completely different set of routing digits.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          111 was / is used in NZ, but the dials were reversed from the UK system ( dialling a 1 sent 9 pulses IIRC)

          These days 911 can also be used in NZ I think.

    4. jmch Silver badge

      "you asked the caller for a 55 keypress or nay sound"

      what on earth is a nay sound??

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Nay soond at all, or just "any" mistyped?

      2. Richard Pennington 1
        Coat

        What is a "nay sound"

        A nay sound is what you say if you want them to send the cavalry.

  13. Dave559

    112

    A little odd that the article mentions various local emergency phone numbers, but somehow doesn't make a single reference to 112, the Global System for Mobile Communications standard emergency phone number at all, which will "Do The Right Thing" from any standard mobile phone (yes, anywhere in the world); and, so that people would only have to remember one number in an emergency, was later extended to landlines in the EU (including the UK) as well…

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: 112

      ...which will "Do The Right Thing" from any standard mobile phone (yes, anywhere in the world);

      Unless you fat-finger dialling 121 to check your voicemail, in which case it'll do the wrong thing. Another reason why 999 was chosen because it was harder to accidently dial it. At least in the good'ol days of rotary phones.

      1. AnotherName

        Re: 112

        It was easier to dial on a rotary dial, as you only had the find the second hole back from the end stop - easy to use in the dark.

      2. OhForF' Silver badge

        Re: 112

        The powers that were in charge locally back then decided to use 112 (fire), 113 (police), 114 (medical) because it was faster to dial a 1 than a 9 on the rotary dial (and i believe although faster and less error prone to make the connection using those old fashioned two-motion selectors).

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: 112

      Remembering 112 meant I could get medical help for the victim of an accident in France a few years ago. I got put through to the cops initially, but we soon got him an ambulance sorted.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 112

      I've been living in the UK (a 999/112 country) for twenty years now but before that I lived in one of the dozens of countries that uses 112. When I needed an ambulance last year, after 19 years in the UK, I instinctively dialled 112. That's how ingrained it is. And obviously 112 works just as well in the UK as 999 and has done for ages.

      So yes, I second the observation that it's odd to write an article about emergency numbers and not to mention the most common emergency number in the world. It's like writing an article about popular sports but forgetting to mention football (the real kind).

  14. jake Silver badge

    I still have analog landlines.

    So do many of my neighbors. $TELCO wants to get rid of them, but there are too many things that are hardwired into the POTS system to just drop it completely. So in theory, after the next "Big One", I'll be able to summon help if needs be long after the cell towers run out of battery and before PG&E power is restored. PG&E and $TELCO both say it might be a couple weeks, perhaps longer, before services are back to normal in our little valley.

    So I'm keeping those old analog lines until they force me to drop 'em. Works far better with modems (and FAX!) than the VoIP lines, too.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I still have analog landlines.

      "So I'm keeping those old analog lines until they force me to drop 'em"

      In the UK that's end of 2025 at the latest. Whether they manage that I have my doubts. BT's latest shareholders' goodies offer still included PSTN stuff....

      1. Xalran

        Re: I still have analog landlines.

        France also wanted to kill the copper wires by 2025... Orange has now moved back the thing to 2035....Because laying fiber in rural areas is expensive, and takes time.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: I still have analog landlines.

          The UK solution is that if you only have POTS it will be replaced by a low bandwidth internet connection that will support a VoIP service but nothing else. It still depends on FTTC being installed for everyone but less work than laying FTTP for everyone. We'll still have to wait & see what actually happens.

          It's still beyond BT subsidiary PlusNet to tell anyone what they're going to do to implement this change. The excuse I was given was that it would confuse customers to tell them now. I'd have thought it would be a lot more confusing to wait until it happens to let them know. Maybe a decision made by someone with their retirement date pencilled in?

          1. Xalran

            Re: I still have analog landlines.

            The difference is that France mandated FTTH/FTTP for everyone.

            So beside removing PSTN/POTS they are also getting rid of the copper at the same time.

            Right now it's impossible to have a PSTN/POTS line, it will be VOIP. ( and it was already hard 10 years ago, as you had to go to the right store [ a former France Telecom store ] talk to the right guy [the old guy at the back letting the kids talk with the customers ] that knew how to coax the system into allowing a new PSTN/POTS line to be activated )

            If you're in an area with Fiber, your only option ( even for just a phone ) will be fiber.

            1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

              Re: I still have analog landlines.

              The difference is that France mandated FTTH/FTTP for everyone

              While in the UK, Maggie blocked BT from going "all fibre" back in the 90s. They had the tech to make fibre cheaper than copper back in the 80s, and even built two factories to turn out the parts.

              It's easy to criticise that decision in hindsight, but back then BT was a monopoly, fairly recently privatised from the dead hand of government ownership, and I;m sure there were very real concerns about giving them effectively absolute power to support their own vested interests and block competition. Of course, now 3 decades late, but we've "sort of" sorted that out by making BT OpenReach a supposedly separate company selling to all comers (including BT) on equal terms.

        2. AndrueC Silver badge

          Re: I still have analog landlines.

          BT switching off POTS does not directly impact the copper wires and does not imply or require that FTTP be available.

          All BT are doing is withdrawing their WLR (Wholesale Line Rental) product. Any CPs that have unbundled their voice service (eg; Talk Talk or Sky) can continue to offer an analogue service if they want to although I'd guess that they too would rather see the back of it and will see this as an opportunity to get out of the market as well.

          In any case the ending of WLR or whatever voice service you have just means that you will have to switch to a VoIP service. Whether that VoIP service is carried over copper, FTTP or waved flags is irrelevant.

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: I still have analog landlines.

            > Whether that VoIP service is carried over copper, FTTP or waved flags is irrelevant.

            Irrelevant - except, as already pointed out, POTS provides its own power; once you are on

            VoIP and suffer a power cut as the fuse box bursts into flames you are out of luck.

            If they could just stick with the copper and shove a few volts down it to keep the system working the way a lot of people are still expecting, that'd be great.

            (Or the Govt require that all VoIP sets include, say, a good few hours of UPS battery life built in)

            1. D@v3

              Re: I still have analog landlines.

              One thing about POTS lines providing power to the phone. While technically true (which is of course the best kind of true), when was the last time you saw a home phone that was actually wired to the wall socket (and thus receiving power) and not a cordless job, sitting in a cradle, which is plugged into the mains, and not receiving power down the phone line?

              Now, I appreciate that I may be talking to the wrong audience here, but I think the last time I saw a wired HOME phone, was around 20 years ago.

              Office desk phones are a different thing, and ours are all PoE, but that is, as I say, a different thing.

              1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

                Re: I still have analog landlines.

                when was the last time you saw a home phone that was actually wired to the wall socket (and thus receiving power) and not a cordless job, sitting in a cradle, which is plugged into the mains, and not receiving power down the phone line?

                I have one sitting on the desk in front of me, and another in the garage.

                Neither is connected to a POTS line, sadly, but both go to a VoIP system with battery backup, and the fibre ONT has backup as well. Best I can do here.

              2. jake Silver badge

                Re: I still have analog landlines.

                "when was the last time you saw a home phone that was actually wired to the wall socket (and thus receiving power)"

                Daily. My desk telephone is about 70 years old. It's a 1950s Western Electric Model 500, my Father's first telephone. It does everything I need a telephone in that location to do, except DTMF, which was easily rectified with a little circuitry and a couple switches and buttons. (My telco still supports pulse dialing, the DTMF option is handy for accessing voice-mail torture devices "helpfully" provided by third parties.)

                A couple years ago I offered a teenager $50 if he could place a call on it.

                He refused to touch it. Said he was afraid of it.

                I made a call to his cell to show him it worked, and asked him to try again. He still refused.

                My granddaughter discovered the phone when she was 5 years old. I gave her one of her own for her 6th birthday (with the same DTMF capability mine has). Around half a decade later, she's still using it. She thinks it's wonderful ... and her friends think she's weird, which she also thinks is wonderful. Mission accomplished. Thanks, Dad :-)

          2. Mike Pellatt

            Re: I still have analog landlines.

            Whilst BT switching off POTS won't affect those supplying unbundled copper connections, the exchange closure programme sure will. Still, that's scheduled for completion by 2040. A date no-one expects to be achieved...

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I still have analog landlines.

          Because laying fiber in rural areas is expensive, and takes time.

          Especially in the bit of France I lived in, where they did it so badly that after a year the authorities suspended the rollout, and made the contractors redo everything they'd done up to then, so that it worked.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: I still have analog landlines.

      I'll be able to summon help if needs be long after the cell towers run out of battery

      Assuming that your local exchange battery hall isn't a steaming pile of rubble..

  15. Alan J. Wylie

    You no longer call from a fixed geographic point with a known number, but are at the mercy of a skew of GIS systems that may or may not work for you.

    Exactly this happened to me. At 07:50 I dialled 999, needing Cave Rescue to evacuate a casualty with appendicitis. I knew exactly where I was in North Yorkshire (Gaping Gill) and the Cave Rescue Organisation would have known exactly too (in fact, several of their members were with me, but for insurance reasons calls have to go via the Police). Gaping Gill is in North Yorkshire, but the mobile mast I connected to was in Lancashire, so I was put through to that Police Force. After going through the "What Three Words" farce[1][2], after which the operator tried to put me at a different cave several miles away, I was told that North Yorkshire Police and then CRO would phone me back. This didn't happen until 08:40. I've tried raising complaints with the two forces and also the IOPC, but all they are interested in dealing with are the actions of individual officers, not that the system is broken. I was told, in particular, that one police force cannot transfer a call to another, nor set up a three way call with Cave/Mountain rescue organisations. In remote areas where signal is poor, 999 sometimes goes via an alternate provider or signal is so intermittent that the phone cannot be called back. Also the caller may have had to move away from the casualty to get signal, leaving them alone and without first aid attention. The rescue organisation duty officer has local knowledge which will often allow them to easily locate a caller, knowledge which the small number of call centres can never have.

    A couple of links to similar incidents:

    overdue on a walk over Fountains Fell in the dark and poor visibility

    lost on Ingleborough

    [1] BBC: Rescuers question what3words' use in emergencies

    [2] Mountain Rescue Magazine Summer 2021: Why What3Words is not suitable for safety critical applications

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      After going through the "What Three Words" farce[1][2],

      Bloody nonsense. Where are the WhatThreeWords printed on maps? Just use the bloody gird reference WHICH IS ONE EVERY SINGLE BLOODY MAP IN EXISTANCE that has the dignity to be a map.

      "My car has broken down at NZ7501." Bingo. Completely unambiguous, no lookup to an arbitary non-calculatable external reference, it is there ON THE DAMN MAP, it is scalable "NZ752011 a bit closer NZ75220115, closer, NZ7522501157..." and it's there ON THE DAMN MAP.

      1. ChipsforBreakfast

        This assumes three things :

        1 : the caller has a map to hand.

        2 : they are able to actually read said map & locate their position on it accurately.

        3 : the emergency services operator they are talking to can do the same.

        Remarkably few people have maps today. Fewer still know how to use them properly (and I am including a sizeable number of casual hikers/hill-walkers etc. in that!). As experiences above suggest emergency services operators aren't always able to do so either (and may well not have the relevant map available).

        What surprises me is that with almost everyone now carrying a capable GPS locator almost everywhere they go (even indoors my phone is capable of finding my location to within 50m or so) there are few if any apps which will SIMPLY DISPLAY THIS INFORMATION.

        Just the coordinates. No fancy maps. No address lookups. No requirement for network connectivity. Just show me the damn location so I can relay it to someone else!

        I've had this happen to me. Middle of nowhere, Scotland. Traffic accident (thankfully nobody hurt) but requiring police attendance - took the cops 8 calls and almost an hour to finally find the location purely because I had no way to get my ACTUAL POSITION from the fancy phone I had without a bloody internet connection!

        Would be so, so easy for both Google & Apple to solve this problem. Dial emergency services, phone displays the coordinates from the GPS on screen. Hit the 'Where the hell am I' buttonj and it does the same (with the fancy map if you happen to be online).

        Easy, simple, worldwide & effective. So why don't they do it?

        1. SonofRojBlake

          https://shop.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/apps/os-locate/

          (Mind you, I've just tested this, and on a Huawei P30 lite it was showing me over 450m away from my actual location. GPS isn't magic...)

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Thanks. For me it's spot on.

            My daughter does a lot of cross-country running & hill walking. I'll make sure she has it on her phone.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          GB Map Location

          If you have an iOS phone this application may be the best 99p you ever spend …

          “ Find out your current location on a GB Map, whilst in Great Britain.

          This app will give you your GB Grid Ref (Ordnance Survey / OS Grid Reference), along with a Compass Bearing and Latitude and Longitude values in both OSGB36 and WGS84 formats”

          See here https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/gb-grid-ref-compass/id515935554

          1. Jan 0 Silver badge

            Re: GB Map Location

            Why bother when os-locate is free, excellent and ad free?

        3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Would be so, so easy for both Google & Apple to solve this problem. Dial emergency services, phone displays the coordinates from the GPS on screen. Hit the 'Where the hell am I' buttonj and it does the same (with the fancy map if you happen to be online).

          Google and Apple have already solved this problem. If you leave location services on, and sometimes even if you've turned them off, they'll know your location. Geolocation is just one of the many valuable services they offer to their subscribers. Problem is more political, ie when you make a 999/112/911 call, the location should be sent automatically with the call. All that needs is agreeing a standard location format, or imposing it by EU-wide legislation. Whenever a user makes an emergency call, make the phone's display show the lat/long where the phone thinks it is, or where it last got a reliable fix.

          I know that when I was doing E.911 stuff, this was a hot topic and a recommendation, but various parties wanted to pass the problem onto someone else. Companies making money from providing endpoint services should just be forced to do this though. Sure, there are potential privacy concerns, but Big Tech is already slurping geolocation data and by making an emergency call, the caller is effectively consenting to and wanting to be located anyway.

          1. tiggity Silver badge

            Not sure if it works without an internet connection, but google maps (I'm on android) shows me my coordinates when I drop a pin (tend to do that if parking in an unknown location where I'm not familiar with that cities landmarks / routes so I can walk back without getting lost e.g. on holiday! (yes I do also make a note of the street name too as a backup))

        4. Paul Kinsler

          perhaps

          There are some simple GPS apps on fdroid that might suffice...

          ... GPS Cockpit seems to work for me, at least on the basis of a 30s trial :-)

          1. Dom 3

            Re: perhaps

            GPS status works for me: lat, long, altitude, speed, direction, in fact oodles of information. Free with unobtrusive ads. No data connection needed.

            1. Anomalous Cowturd
              Thumb Up

              GPS Status for me too.

              I actually paid for the upgrade to the ad-free version, not because the ads were a major annoyance, but because it's such a useful program.

              The fact that it "Works anywhere" without a need for a mobile or data signal, is a major factor, and it doesn't try to rape your privacy with unnecessary permissions.

        5. doublelayer Silver badge

          Apple did it, but they didn't make a point of it. If you open the included compass application on an iPhone, your coordinates are right below the compass display, precise to the second. Tapping them will open a map of your location, although that probably requires connection and may not work in all places.

          1. Orv Silver badge

            Apple really needs to add the ability to download offline maps ahead of time to Apple Maps. Google Maps has it, so it can obviously be done.

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              It looks like they agree and will release that with IOS 17. So it might be coming. I have used other applications which support offline maps already, though.

              1. Orv Silver badge

                That's good news. I strongly prefer the way Apple Maps gives verbal instructions to the way Google Maps does it. Google Maps also has an annoying tendency to forget the planned route if you disconnect CarPlay for any reason, and then it can't re-route without Internet service.

        6. Orv Silver badge

          I've gotten annoyed about this before too. I have three GPS mapping apps on my phone and a GPS speedometer; none of them show latitude/longitude info. Eventually I figured out the Compass app that comes free with iOS does, but it took a while because I'd buried it in a folder with Level and Measure and a much of other useless stuff.

      2. SonofRojBlake

        What's bloody nonsense?

        See, you're assuming the thing you're replying to means one thing ("I wanted to give them my location using W3W") when in fact I'd bet folding money that it means something very different: "THEY wanted ME to give THEM my location using W3W, despite my regarding it as a farce".

        I might also point out that the sort of person who's summoning cave rescue is likely to be the sort of person who is perfectly well aware of how to give a grid reference. You're not taking into account the reception you get when you dial 999 and ask for something odd.

        Related anecdote: we paragliders regrettably reasonably frequently require air ambulances. A decade back - before W3W existed - flyers in the North West found they were having trouble summoning help, because (a) they weren't necessarily connected to an operator from their region, so saying "the summit of Parlick " was no use, because the person asking for the location might not even know where bloody Preston is, let alone a specific hill and (b) they really, REALLY wanted you to give them a postcode because they REALLY wanted to send you a road ambulance. We had multiple reports of operators insisting on a postcode, apparently oblivious to the fact that in some areas a postcode can be several miles across and in any case no road ambulance can get to where you are.

        As a result, on the advice of a local pilot who was also a firefighter and therefore knew some of the issues, and having reached out to the air ambulance service directly, we established that yes, what *they* really want is an OS grid reference. We therefore printed up a few hundred laminated creditcard sized safety cards. On one side, there was a simple five step process in the event of a crash, including a VERY SPECIFIC form of words that we established would get the 999 operator off their script and tasking a heli asap. On the other side were the OS grid refs of the six most commonly used local launch sites.

        What 3 Words is a good idea implemented badly and not something you'd want to have to rely on. Which makes it a perfect partner for Land Rovers, into which (I recently learned) it's been integrated. Hilarious.

      3. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

        A friend is one of the heli pilots for Surrey Air Ambulance. They use W3W by choice when communicating with first responders in the field, I think for the reasons that are by now pretty well established. It's easy to relay over the phone and it comes with a suitable level of accuracy. A mate also managed to collect his kid from a festival last year when he got into trouble, at night on a roadside with hundreds of people milling about it took him to the exact location.

        I realise all this can be done with Lat/Long, but it's pretty well established by now that this isn't the best system for people that are under pressure and using an audio link of poor quality. Marine emergency systems switched a few years ago to use digital by default - on moden VHF handsets, hold down the button for 5 seconds and it sends an emergency alert with latititude/longitude, which avoids the very well known documented problems with people unable to relay lati/longitude accurately.

        I do appreciate that W3W is from a private company, but that's not their fault that Google and Apple have gone all "not invented here" and don't license it. I think that's a shame, it's objectively better for this purpose.

        Ironically your suggested grid reference approach - "NZ7501" - what is that, UK OS grid? NZ OS grid? I don't recognise it and it's not on any of my maps, which does somewhat undermine your point. Had you said WGS84 you would have been on more solid ground

        1. Mike Pellatt

          They haven't gone all "NIH" over W3W.

          The major issue (OK, one of the major issues) is that the word allocation algorithm is a trade secret.

          For a publicly-used geolocation system, that is madness.

          Listing those is left as an exercise for the reader.

        2. Alan J. Wylie

          "NZ7501" - what is that, UK OS grid

          Yes, The UK Ordnance Survey Grid, as found on all of their, and also Harvey's Maps

          And off the top of my head, it's somewhere about 50 kilometers south and east of Durham.

          That's one of the advantages of Grid Refs. If you know where one grid reference is, within a 100km square, calculating the distance and direction to another can easily be done in your head.

        3. Ferry Michael

          Under pressure you just dial 999. AML sorts out sending accurate lat/long.

          W3W is highly ambiguous with its use of similar sounding words, plurals, compound words etc.

          W3W is not designed or intended for emergency use.

          And based on the amount of money they burn on advertising vs their revenue, they will not exist in a few years time.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You say that, but the one and only time I have called 999, my mountain-biking buddy had broken his arm in the middle of nowhere. I had a map and could give the grid ref. I had a way of displaying WGS 84 lat/long on my phone. But no, the operator wanted a street address - despite us not being on or near a street. Since it wasn't life-threatening, we made our way to an actual road and they were able to send someone there.

        1. SonofRojBlake

          That's precisely the problem our paragliding safety cards were intended to address - 999 operators being obtuse when you're somewhere other than directly on a road where they can send a road ambulance.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Speaking as someone who always takes a map with them when out on the hills, I agree. However, there is an app which might help "OS Locate" which gives you your OS grid reference. It doesn't include an OS map in the app, and doesn't need a data connection. I've only ever used it to prove to other people that I've read the map properly and that we are exactly where I think we are, so I can't comment on how good it is in an emergency....

        You can't beat a paper map, and if you fork out a bit more money for a waterproof map, you can sit on it to eat your lunch on a damp hillside.

    2. G.Y.

      band-aid fix:

      move 10 feet, get another what3words code. It's enough for 1 to be correct

      If paranoid, do it again

      1. Mike Pellatt

        Re: band-aid fix:

        But my back's broken.

        Moving 10 feet? Not the brightest idea in the world.

        See, every suggestion that someone comes up with to "fix" W3W is worse than the obvious solution of not using it, but using a proper, pre-existing, geolocation system with a public location code generation algorithm

    3. Orv Silver badge

      I remember ham radio operators having the "wrong location" problem back in the late 80s, when calling emergency numbers using a 'phone patch' system. They would report a car accident at a particular location, the operator would look up the phone number and get the address of the repeater tower (which might be 20 miles away), and conclude it was a hoax because the person calling was nowhere near what was being reported.

  16. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    It's instructive to compare with Japan where the emergency comms system *does* work because it *is* used regularly. Every couple of weeks there's an earth tremour /somewhere/ and emergency information goes out to all comms links in the affected area.

  17. Aladdin Sane
    Coat

    The new number is 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3

    1. Naich

      Good dog, I can't believe I had to scroll down this far to see this.

    2. Red Sceptic

      “That’s easy to remember!”

    3. milliemoo83
      Flame

      I was just about to post this.

      Fire icon, for obvious reasons.

  18. Roger Greenwood

    "...local radio hams to dig themselves out from their cellars..."

    Actually we have man caves now. Don't bother ringing Thursday, I will be doing "mindfulness" (cataloging my resistor collection).

    1. Aladdin Sane

      Re: "...local radio hams to dig themselves out from their cellars..."

      I assume you sit in the lotus position and say "Ohm"?

      1. jmch Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: "...local radio hams to dig themselves out from their cellars..."

        Well played!!!

      2. Roger Greenwood
        Thumb Up

        Re: "...local radio hams to dig themselves out from their cellars..."

        Yes indeed, that resonates with me. Have a standing wave....

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: "...local radio hams to dig themselves out from their cellars..."

          I should pin this thread ... Seems we can all coaxist.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "...local radio hams to dig themselves out from their cellars..."

      As luck would have it, the author is a radio ham himself.

      (Anonymous as he knows me.)

  19. Electric Panda

    The US 911 system is a total patchwork It has never been a standardised system, it was rolled out piecemeal, and even as recently as the early-mid 1980s some areas still didn't have it. Add that every small half-horse town seems to have its own 911 dispatch infrastructure and you have a bit of a mess.

    Mind you, the emergency services infrastructure in the US is totally different to ours. The fire departments out there are arguably more skilled and can do more jobs (they double up as paramedics, for example) and you don't need to tell the operator which service you require. In the UK you see people asked "what service do you require", they then rattle off details of the incident and the operator has to interrupt them. Don't know what service you require? That's a problem - the rule of thumb then is to contact the police and let them coordinate, but not many people know that.

    It was suggested immediately after the 999 outage that the UK looks to adopt a 911-style system. I half agree.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Does it have to be a 911 or

      Can a Boxster, 928, 944 owner use it as well?

      Oh could also be for Lotus Sunbeam owners, but not the push rod lumps.

    2. Dom 3

      If you know what you want - there's no need to wait to be asked. Just say "fire" or whatever the moment the call is answered and you will be put through. (Done it).

  20. imanidiot Silver badge

    This reminds me

    I should really get around to getting my HAM novice ticket. Even if it's just to be legally allowed to use a basic 2m handset in emergency situations. I've had some thoughts of organizing enough to be able to set up a basic emergency comms center but when I start making the list of what that would entail in terms of hardware needs it starts getting a bit steep.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: This reminds me

      Anyone thinking of doing that should join RAYNET, the UK group info can be found at https://www.raynet-uk.net/, it has links to international groups. They train with the usual blue-light services, and so can easily integrate with them if the situation requires it.

  21. Muscleguy

    Radio Pork

    There’s a radio ham just at the tend of the road, Less than 50m away. Though if some of the trees in the park fall the right way they might wipe out at least one of his antennae. Or not. Still we can always restring the wire using the tree for the other end. A cycle driven dynamo for power or a convenient charged eCar and we’re good to go.

    This sort of thing is real in NZ aka The Shaky Isles. In the Kaikoura quake coms to Kaikoura were non functional for several days. Lots of lateral and vertical uplift (up to 9m) will play havoc with the technology.

    The NZ govt tells the population they may have to be self reliant for three days in a natural disaster situation. So you have an emergency bag packed with tinned & dried goods, bottled water, batteries, First Aid Kit etc. Daughter in Dunedin has one, local factory fire almost had them needing to bug out with it.

  22. ukgnome

    Will 0118 999 881 99 9119 725 3 still work?

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Only if you leave in the pauses, especially on that last 3.

      So best to keep it memorised rather on speed dial. Thankfully, it is easy to remember.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good Article.....Great Suggestions.....

    Quote: "...a uniform countrywide service..."

    ....except that:

    - Not everyone has broadband

    - Not everyone has a mobile phone

    - The general trend is to rip out the (antiquated) copper system of connections

    Then there's additional problems in the UK:

    - The Police Service is populated by Wayne Couzins look-alikes

    - The Ambulance Service is under-funded and under-resourced

    - The NHS may (or may not) be able to help

    Stephen Barclay (sock puppet in charge of the NHS) recommended that "You need to make sure that you don't get sick"..............

    As far as the 999 service is concerned, let's all take a leaf out of Stephen Barclay's book: "You need to make sure that nothing bad happens to you".

    So.....no technology needed at all...."Just make sure that nothing bad happens to you". Good luck with that!

  24. Kev99 Silver badge

    I'm in the US and you're right about the 911 system. Where I live there are numerous 911 systems. Cincinnati and Hamilton County each have their own and several other communities do as well. Even though cell phones are supposed to have location identifiers built in you still never know which 911 you're going to get. Many times I've tried to call in an accident thinking I'll be connected to appropriate emergency agency. Wrong. Almost every time the response is "Let me connect you to the (local community) system". They've tried to set up a central dispatch but Cincy & HamCo won't talk to each other and none of the other communities want to foot the bill. What a bunch of maroons.

  25. Mike_T.

    If it isn't broken don't fix it

    As described in the article the current system may have some issues with mobile phone locations but for landlines it just works.

    I struggle to see why the current UK Government has allowed BT to get away with not providing an emergency call service for every landline and I fear that after the digital switchover it is just a question of time before history repeats itself, hopefully not before 2035.

    Next time you have a power cut check your mobile signal, you may be unpleasantly surprised even of you don't live in the Outer Hebrides. I live in the middle of Southern Counties and as soon as the power goes off so do all the mobile networks. My analogue land line however still works - for now.

  26. Richard 12 Silver badge
    FAIL

    Then problem is power

    The old POTS was powered from the exchange.

    In the event of a power cut affecting the exchange, it had enough battery backup to keep the phones alive and ensure emergency calls would get through for (IIRC) two days.

    The new FTTP with VOIP does not power the phone.

    In the event of a power cut, the VOIP phone simply doesn't work at all.

    Cell towers aim for about two hours on battery, so your mobile goes dead rather quickly too.

    This is a big problem in commercial public venues, as they now have to figure out what to do - and generally don't get to choose when BT flips them over to FTTP, either.

    1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

      Re: Then problem is power

      https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/engineering/about/news-archive/2016/learning-from-lancasters-power-cuts/

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BT's backend

    A few years ago I was trying to get 999 location updates into BT for VOIP phones (mostly fixed locations in offices, so made some sense).

    Nightmare. You have to FTP a COBOL-format file (fixed width fields, zero-padded numbers) with the new info, then sometime later download

    a file saying which ones have worked. That doesn't begin to describe the pain but it's a start.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: BT's backend

      You have to FTP a COBOL-format file

      I'm surprised it wasn't a dial-up zmodem/kermit file transfer to a 14.4k modem on a really bad line that uses a hand-made binary compiled format format [1] that had to have it's own certificate from a known cert server..

      (I remember the days of dealing with BT and serial comms lines. Order a 512K line, engineer turns up with the kit to do a 1M line and doesn't know how to reconfigure it.. puts it in as a 1M line, charges it as a 512k line, promises to amend it later and never does..)

      [1] That has to be compiled by a BT provided application that runs under MS-DOS 5 and will appear to run under other DOS versions but produce gibberish that the destination can't read.

  28. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Erm

    "Is going to take psychology, UI smarts and very careful filter designing "

    Has he not noticed the total mess of design that the big tech companies usually come up with.Even Apple's iOS is inconsistent, non-intuitive and muddled. As to Microsoft............

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've got this great idea

    ... why don't we make the landline infrastructure provider stick a wire into every property on which there is a phone which can dial emergency serv ices and then put a battery back in the exchange to support calls in the event of a power outage..... Oh wait.... :-)

  30. an.other_tech

    When a single system isn't enough

    Back in 1935, tech was emerging. Before that you had church bells and signal fires to warn of emergencies.

    Look at the situation today.

    Tech has moved so quickly and without a thought for such needs.

    Or has it ?

    Anyone remember when VOIP started to be offered to domestic customers.

    There were several choices, but if one recalls correctly, only a couple that offered 999 access.

    One was Vonage (still going today).

    That is why we chose them.

    We did away with our copper phone line and had cable internet. That worked.

    Until. Yes. You know whats coming.

    Power cut.

    (Even cordless phones knew that issue, and a lot of base stations had battery back up compartments.)

    So what to do ? Pop to a neighbour and use their landline phone !

    What might be the future is satellites with 999 capabilities, but also phone boxes which are linked via copper network to a battery backup exchange. But much much smaller than now.

    We all know that an EM pulse knocks out tech, batteries run out, rain interrupts satellite.

    So, we find, and agree, on a multi network that is resilient and redundant.

    Or we just put big hand bells in cabinets.

  31. Azium

    If the women burned to death in a house fire in central *London*, then it would have been a *neighbour* who had tried to call the fire brigade on his home telephone.

  32. TheBadja

    Emergency App in Australia

    The emergency services in Australia worked together to create an emergency app which connects to emergency services, including supplying what3words location.

  33. Anonymous Cowpilot

    Aviation does not use satellites for emergencies

    Aviation uses the much simpler approach of VHF (121.5) and UHF (243.0) radios for emergency (and most other) communication. We don't rely on satellite phones (although we will use them for supplemental communication like arguing with company about the overtime implications of a diversion).

    1. Anomalous Cowturd
      Boffin

      Re: Aviation does not use satellites for emergencies

      243 MHz is VHF. UHF starts at 300MHz.

      1. Grinning Bandicoot

        VHF vs UHF

        Properly yes but for practicality no. Think as rule of thumb rather then the definition learned at whatever school. Shipboard different types of antennas though here at home I use one very large discone.

  34. Tubz Silver badge

    In theory a great idea, in practice probably easy too do next generation devices, cost isn't expensive if shared globally, problem is getting all the countries together to agree to one standard and the cost, in the modern world that is impossible. Even if this was agreed at UN level by all, the arguing starts, whose standard, USA, European, Chinese Russian, who gets the contracts, who pays for it, will bigger and wealthier countries pay more than smaller poor countries.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What3Words

    In the meantime, till we have location that's always reliable (lol) - I cannot recommend What 3 Words enough. I use it all the time on shift when I need to get things to me along a specific route, or give them more accurate directions than 387th tree on the right, through the gate on the east side.

    Our contact centre can also bash it in and it will show them exactly where you're talking about. #

    Sure it's not perfect, there's times when you won't be able to access it (like when I dropped my phone in a river for example...) but honestly, have it on your phone. It's a genuine lifesaver.

    Disclaimer: I don't work for W3W, and whilst my employer can probably be inferred, my views are my own etc etc!

  36. GreyWolf

    This is something I am definitely worried about...

    We live near "civilisation" (only 3 miles from BT Adastral Park and a major A-road), but we have little or no mobile phone signal in this village. We are totally dependent on landlines for emergency calls.

    We also have regular power cuts.

    VOIP is NOT a viable alternative.

    Does someone have to die before BT gets a clue?

  37. tip pc Silver badge
    Go

    Apple already offer emergency satellite comms on the iPhone 14

    https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2022/11/emergency-sos-via-satellite-available-today-on-iphone-14-lineup/

    So long as you have line of sight to the sky, the phone will guide you on positioning and let you fire off messages to emergency services including your location.

    it truly is a last resort but it is available today on millions of handsets

    its even saved people already

    https://appleinsider.com/articles/23/04/24/iphone-14-emergency-sos-via-satellite-saved-students-stuck-in-a-utah-canyon#:~:text=The%20iPhone%2014%20Emergency%20SOS,being%20stuck%20in%20a%20canyon.

    not sure why this article is calling for something that already exists

  38. Stork Silver badge

    Well exactly, you call the wrong emergency number

  39. aerogems Silver badge
    Coat

    0118 999

    0118 999 881 999 119 725 3

    I am absolutely mortified that not one person has made this joke yet.

  40. dittytwo

    the new emergency number already exists

    0118 999 881 999 119 7253

    try it on your android mobiles

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: the new emergency number already exists

      AFAIK it only works in Android 6, and only with the Google dialler app, so Samsung phones need not apply.

  41. This Side Up

    Surely we should all be using 112, not 999?

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