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Emergency Calls

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 11 December 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what procedures govern telephone operators listening to silent emergency calls; and for how long operators are advised to listen to such calls. (240871)

Communication providers (CPs), contracted call handling agents and the emergency authorities have responsibilities which are outlined in the code of practice for the Public Emergency Call Service (PECS). PECS is intended to deal with the method of handling ‘999/112’ public emergency telephone calls between the call handling agents (CHAs) and the emergency authorities (EAs) in the United Kingdom (Police, Fire, Ambulance and Coastguard). All CPs have obligations under the Communications Act 2003.

Section 4.6 of the PECS Code of Practice covers ‘Calls without service request’. This relates to silent calls. It states that:

“There are many calls to 999/112 where a caller does not actually request an EA. In the overwhelming majority of cases these are children playing or customer misdials, but there is always a possibility of it being a genuine caller who cannot speak Very large numbers of accidental 999/112 calls are received from mobile phones.

CHA Emergency Operators (CHA EO) try to obtain a response by asking the normal questions—for example “which service is required”, and “if you cannot speak but need help please tap the handset screen.” In cases where nothing apart from general noise (no speech) is heard, or where the voice link is terminated during CHA questioning (perhaps with background speech or noise), it is recognised that there is a negligible chance that it is genuine and the CHA EO can end the call.

Where there is no response, the voice channel remains open and background voices are present it is recognised that the CHA cannot decide whether an EA is needed. In this case the call is connected to a police voice response system hosted by the Metropolitan Police Service which asks caller to press ‘5’ twice if help is required. If 55 is pressed then immediate connection with the appropriate police authority is made. For any cases where suspicious noises are heard the CHA can override the above procedures and connect to a police EACR”.

While the Home Office has oversight of the police service's handling of 999/112 calls, Other Government Departments are responsible for the 999/112 call handling standards of the other emergency services.