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When Was UK Emergency Telephone Number 999 First Introduced?

History Of The 999 Number


The emergency phone number 999 was first introduced at Scotland Yard, London in 1937.


It was then introduced to other major cities over several years, eg in Glasgow by 1938.


It took until the late 1960s before every phone, including every public telephone box, could dial 999 for free.


999 is now used to call the emergency services of the fire brigade, police service, ambulance service and the coast guards.


For most mobile phones networks the emergency number is 112 or 999.


The story of the origins of the 999 emergency number can be traced back to the death of a 22 year old Aberdeen woman called Alexandrina Lamont who was working as a housemaid in London. On the 10 November 1935 she died in a fire in the home of a surgeon in Wimpole Street in London.

A passing milkman saw black smoke coming from the four storey house and ran to the fire alarm call point. He pulled the handle and this would have contacted the fire station by telegraph.

A neighbour also saw the smoking building and contacted the telephone operator by dialling 0 and then asked to be put through to the local fire station. This took over 15 minutes by which time the fire brigade had already arrived without the neighbour being able to alert them.

As a result of this needless death and the delay in contacting the fire brigade a committee was formed to investigate the tragedy. They decided that there should only be one easy to remember telephone number to contact the emergency serviced throughout Great Britain. And so the 999 emergency phone number was launched on the 30 June 1937.

When making the choice of the emergency telephone number the committee had to choose a phone number that would work in London and throughout the UK. It had to be memorable and quick and easy to choose. 999 was eventually decided because the numbers 111 could not be used because these numbers would be transmitted by telegraph when the telegraph wires rubbed together in the wind.

The first time the telephone number 999 was dialled it resulted in the police arresting a burglar raiding a house.

British Telecom have five 999 call centres. These can be found at Bangor, Blackburn, Glasgow, Newport and Nottingham. Over two million emergency calls were made.

An emergency number operator will handle approximately 250 calls per shift. Over 95% are answered within five seconds.

Of these numbers over 50% are made accidentally by children playing or from mobile phone users inadvertently dialling the emergency number of 112 whilst the phone is in their pocket or handbag.

About 58% of calls received by BT operators are transferred to the police force, 33% to the ambulance service, 8% to the fire service and 1% to the mountain rescue services.



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