Traveler Alert: In U.K., Silent Emergency Assistance Can Come to the Rescue

A hackney carriage in London

By Jesse Sokolow on 17 January 2017
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In 2003, Hannah Foster, a teenager, was murdered after her 999 emergency call was judged accidental because she didn’t speak directly to the operator but instead held the line open in the expectation that the operator would hear the conversation she was having with her abductor. Instead, her call was determined to be accidental and ended by an operator.

Similar earlier incidents led the London Metropolitan Police Service to introduce in 2001 a system called the Silent Solution, which allows a caller who, for whatever reason, cannot speak, the opportunity to dial “55” to indicate there is a true emergency and that the call was not made accidentally.

Following several highly publicized incidents in the United Kingdom in recent years, police have issued a reminder to the public about the existence of the Silent Solution protocol for use in such emergencies.

Dialing 999 or 112 in the United Kingdom will connect you to a trained operator who will ask which emergency service is required. The system is operated by the Metropolitan Police and serves the entire country.

“Emergency operator staff are trained to handling difficult calls, including where the caller is unable to speak,” said Chris Dreyfus-Gibson, an expert on emergency services at PA Consulting in London and former chief inspector with the British Transport Police.

If the calling party says nothing, the operator will ask the caller to cough or make some other noise to confirm that there is an emergency. If that doesn’t result in a confirmation, the call will be transferred to an automated system that asks the caller to press “55” if this is a true emergency.

If nothing is pressed, the call will be terminated and police will not respond. Travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing can register their mobile phone at www.emergencysms.org.uk in order to be able to send a text message to 999 in an emergency.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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