Seventy years calls for a celebration
It was the world's first emergency call service, three little numbers that have saved thousands of lives, and today BT's 999 service, celebrates its 75th birthday.
The service was launched following the tragic deaths of five women in a fire. More than 1,000 calls were made during its first week in 1937, compared with a weekly average today of 597,000 across the UK and around 37,000 in the South West.
Operators now answer within five seconds 98 per cent of the 31 million UK calls received annually.
Each of the two million calls generated each year in the South West is handled by one of BT's well-established 999 centres in Nottingham, Newport, Blackburn, Bangor and Glasgow, or one of the newer centres in Dundee and Portadown. A centre in Liverpool provides a text relay service for people who are deaf or speech-impaired.
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Speed and accuracy of information are vital in the handling of an emergency call. As the call is received, details of the caller's address and phone number flash immediately on the screen of the BT operator, who will swiftly confirm that the call is bona fide, which emergency service is required and then transfer the call to the appropriate service.
Mrs Ros Kinsey, based in Newport and an operator for 25 years, has handled many calls from South West. "At the moment with all the flooding it is very busy for us," she said. "Sometimes we don't take a break because it is just so busy. If someone is distressed we stay on the line until the emergency service answers. You do feel you are doing a worthwhile job.
"When I started here we dealt with local calls but now they are from anywhere in the country. Sometimes we do get calls saying a cat is up a tree, but if the caller asks for fire, police or ambulance we have to put them through."
Jon Reynolds, BT's South West regional director, said: "Today, the 999 service is known for its reliability and professionalism. It's not only the world's oldest emergency call service having clocked up 75 years of experience in providing the UK with a communications lifeline in times of need, it's also one of the world's most respected and admired services.
"Our 999 operators are the first port of call for people seeking help and we're very proud of the part they have played in this essential service for the past seven and a half decades."
BT is continuing to invest in the service with £10 million being spent on renewing call-handling equipment.
Around half of the 80,000-plus calls received daily do not involve requests for help. Most are made by children playing or customers accidentally dialling 999 from a mobile handset in a pocket or handbag.