The Crime Prevention Website

The ‘999’ emergency telephone service began in London in 1937 and in the first week was used 1,000 times!

The ‘999’ emergency service was set up in order that the telephone operators could identify emergency calls. This followed the death of five people during a fire at a doctor’s surgery in 1935 when a telephone call for the fire brigade’s assistance was not answered by the operators.

A government committee was set up in order to oversee the introduction of the new emergency number in the hope that such a service would save lives, which it did and continues to do so. The committee first considered ‘707’ as this corresponded to the letters ‘SOS’ on the phone dials. However, ‘999’ was eventually chosen, because it was a number that could easily be dialled on the old rotary dials in the dark or in a smoke filled room.  

Although Glasgow followed suit in 1938 full introduction of the service was delayed by the second-world-war with the rest of the country following in 1948

Here’s a few more facts:

  • ‘999’ is the world’s oldest emergency telephone number
  • On average there are 560,000 ‘999’ calls made each week
  • 97% of calls are answered within 5 seconds
  • 62% of calls are made from mobile phones
  • 35% of calls are not emergency calls for help
  • Midnight on Friday and Saturday are the peak times for ‘999’ calls
  • The busiest time of the year for emergency calls is just after midnight on New Year’s Day
  • 19 Other countries use ‘999’ including: Ireland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Poland, Trinidad and Tobago and Zimbabwe
  • These days ‘112’ can also be dialled instead of 999, even from a locked mobile phone
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