Telephone number trace

999 (emergency telephone number)

999 is the United Kingdom's and Ireland's official emergency telephone number and Poland's medical emergency number. 999 is to be called when you require the police, ambulance service, fire service or coastguard. They are all used alongside the EU standard 112.

999 is also the emergency telephone number in some Commonwealth countries including Bangladesh, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore (the rest use a variety of numbers, including 9-1-1). It is also used in the United Arab Emirates, Macao, Bahrain and Qatar.

United Kingdom

The procedure

Upon witnessing or being involved in an emergency, it is advisable to contact the emergency services. This can be done in the UK by dialling either 999 or 112 from a phone. Both numbers correspond to the same line, and there is no priority or charge for either of them. There is a number for Deaf or speech impaired people, called via a text phone, the number is 18000. These calls are answered by RNID Type-talk in Liverpool and they relay the call to the 999 operator.

An emergency can be:

  • A risk of injury to someone or a risk of serious damage to property
  • Suspicions that a crime is in progress
  • There is a serious incident which needs immediate Emergency Service attendance

On dialling 999 a BT operator will come onto the line and ask "Emergency which service?". Previously operators asked "Which service do you require?" (approximately up to the mid-90's)

If the caller is unsure as to which service they require, the operator will advise according to the situation.

If the caller has selected a service they will be connected to the relevant service that covers the area that they are phoning from.

The room in which a operators work are called OAC's - "Operator assistance centre". In Wales they are located in Newport and Bangor. 999/112 calls from Mobile phones are usually answered in an OAC in Inverness, Scotland.

The operator will state the location of the operator followed by the caller’s telephone number, i.e. "Bangor connecting 01248 300 000" to the emergency services call taker and the emergency services will then take over the call, with the BT operator.

It is quite common for the person who dialled 999/112 to be confused as to why the operator is talking to the Emergency service and giving their phone number to the Emergency service. The emergency services call taker may ask the operator for the caller's number again, especially if the person who dialled 999/112 was talking over the operator when the call was being connected or to confirm the physical location of the call, usually at the end of the call. Both BT and the emergency service to which the call was connected to - record the calls.

If an incident requires more than one service, for instance a Road Traffic Collision with injuries and trapped persons, depending on the service the caller has chosen, the service will alert the other services for the caller.


It is important for the caller to be aware of their location when phoning for the emergency services, the caller's location will not be passed onto the emergency services immediately, and finding the location will be a combination of efforts on both parties. However it is possible to trace both landline and mobile telephone numbers with the BT operator; the former can be traced to an address. The latter can be immediately traced to a grid reference according to the transmitter being used, however this is only accurate to a certain wide area, for more specific traces senior authority must be acquired and an expensive operation can be conducted to trace the mobile phone within a few meters.

In some occasions callers will be put through to the wrong area service, this is called a “misrouted 9”. The most common reason for this is when a mobile phone calls 999 and is using a radio transmitter that is located in another force, most frequently these are calls that are made within a few miles of a border. Upon establishing the incident location, the emergency services call taker will relay the information to the responsible force for their dispatch. In most areas, other forces will respond to incidents just within the border if they could get there quicker, assist, and then hand over to the other force when they arrive.

Abandoned and hoax calls

An abandoned call is when a caller, intentionally or otherwise, rings 999 and then disconnects or stays silent, this could be for any number of reasons. Abandoned calls are filtered by BT operators and are either disconnected or put through to the police.

The most common reasons for abandoned calls include:

  • Accidental calling by dialing 999 on mobile phones, even with the keypad locked. All GSM mobile phones have a feature of still allowing emergency calls to be dialed even with a keypad lock on.
  • Faulty lines.

Hoax calls are an issue for the emergency services. They use both time and resources and are ultimately a jeopardy to the safety of the public as they tie up lines and dispatched units. People can be and have been prosecuted for making hoax calls as it is illegal. If someone is prosecuted they may face a fine of up to £5,000 or six months in prison, and they may also have their phone cut off.

999 services

In the UK it is an all-service number, meaning that it should be called in any situations where state-run Emergency Services are needed. The three main services are the Police, Fire and Rescue and Ambulance. Other available services include Coastguard, Mountain Rescue and Cave Rescue, where locally relevant. In some situations there will be specific instructions on nearby signs to notify some other authority of an emergency before calling 999. For example there are notices on bridges carrying railways over roads telling people that, if they see a road vehicle striking the bridge, they should call the railway authority (on a given number) first and then call 999 to inform the police.

In the UK, the number is operated by BT, Cable & Wireless, Kingston Communications and Global Crossing. These organisations forward calls to the appropriate emergency service for the location and incident; all calls to the number are made free of charge. The operation of 999 is coordinated by the 999 Liaison Committee.


The 999 service was introduced on 30 June 1937 in the London area, and later nationally. The system is said to have been introduced in the light of the deteriorating international situation and the impending possibility of war. 999 was chosen because of the need for the code to be able to be dialled from A/B button public telephones. The telephone dial (GPO Dial No 11) used with these coin-boxes allowed the digit '0' to be dialled without inserting any money, and it was very easy to adapt the dial to dial '9' without inserting money. All other digits from 2 to 8 were in use somewhere in the UK as the initial digits for subscribers' telephone numbers and hence could not easily be used. Had any other digits been used, other digits between that one and the already free '0' would also have been able to be dialled free of charge. No other telephone numbers existed using combinations of the digits '9' and '0' (other than one in Woolwich) therefore there would be no unauthorised 'free' calls. Another determining factor was that in many rural exchanges subscribers already dialed the routing digit 9 to call numbers on their parent exchange. This meant that 999 could be made available with no changes at those outlying exchanges, since the main exchange could simply route to the operator when 99 was dialed into its incoming trunks.

Thus the easy conversion of coin-box dial was the deciding factor and the fact that 999 was not used anywhere, other than for accessing the occasional 'position 9' of an Engineering Test Desk in the telephone exchange. Numbers beginning with 1 were excluded for other technical reasons - for example, 111 could be dialled by accident by wires making contact.

A particular advantage of the sequence 9-9-9 was that it could be dialled easily from a dark telephone box, simply by placing two adjacent fingers (the index and middle fingers) in the holes in the dial plate mean the finger stop and dialling the same number 9 thrice with the index finger.

Access to the emergency service is provided for the hearing impaired via Textphone and use of the national 'typetalk' relay service. The number is 18000, having previously been 0800 112999.

Since the introduction of mobile phones, the choice of the number 999 has become a particular problem for UK emergency services, as same-digit sequences are most likely dialled by accident due to vibrations and other objects colliding with a keypad. This problem is less of a concern with emergency numbers that use two different digits (e.g., 112, 911).

The pan-European 112 code was introduced in the UK by BT in December 1992, with little publicity. It connects to existing 999 circuits. The GSM standard mandates that the user of a GSM phone can dial 112 without unlocking the keypad, a feature that can save time in emergencies but that also causes some accidental calls. A valid SIM card is required to make a 999/112 emergency call in the UK. However, all UK GSM mobile phones still permit a call to the emergency line even in the absence of a SIM card, for example by allocating that function to a softkey.

On 6 October 1998, BT introduced a new system whereby all the information about the location of the calling telephone was transmitted electronically to the relevant service rather than having to read it out (with the possibility of errors). This system is called EISEC (Enhanced Information Service for Emergency Calls).

On 30 December, 2006, West Midlands Ambulance Service gave Christmas 2006 examples of inappropriate uses of 999 during the festive period, including: a man who could not find his trousers; a man who "couldn't walk from too much dancing"; a man with a finger injury he had sustained two days earlier; and an 18-year-old man who had a toothache.

It has been reported that on some networks in the UK, and in Ireland dialing 9-1-1 will forward you to the emergency line as well. Despite this, 911 is not the official number in those locations and can not be relied upon in case of emergency.


Since May 2006 a new non-emergency telephone number 101 has been available, initially in Hampshire, and then in the Northumbria force area, Cardiff, South Yorkshire, and 'Leicester and Rutland' for calls to the police that did not require an immediate police response. It was planned to be rolled out in the summer of 2008, but funding was pulled by the Home Office during 2007, causing some of the 101 lines to close.

Hong Kong

The 999 was introduced to Hong Kong during British rule and continues to be used following the handover in 1997.


Macau adopted the same 999 number as that used in Hong Kong for emergency services. After its handover from Portuguese rule to Chinese rule in 1999, it introduced two additional emergency hotline numbers: 110 (mainly for tourists from mainland China) and 112 (mainly for tourists from overseas).


The 999 emergency services in Malaysia is manned by about 138 telephonists from Telekom Malaysia. On-going upgrading works are taking place to introduce the Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI) for hospital exchanges, digital mapping to track the callers' locations and Computer Assisted Despatching (CAD) for online connectivity among the agencies providing the emergency services in the country. All calls to the number are made free of charge.

The worldwide emergency number for GSM mobile phones, 112, also works on all GSM networks in the country. Calls made to this number are redirected to the 999 call centre.


The 112 emergency number is an all-service number in Poland like in the other EU states, but old numbers that were traditionally designated for emergencies are still in use parallel to 112. Those are:

  • 999 for medical emergency
  • 998 for fire emergency
  • 997 for Police

See also

Republic of Ireland


United Kingdom


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