Monday, 12 August 2013

What is the Emergency Services Number?

What is the emergency services number in the UK? The USA? How about Canada? Australia? India? Germany? France? That's a trick question really, as France has three different numbers for their services. Are they all free to call? Can they all be called from mobiles? Can they all be called from foreign mobile? Can you text any of them?

Chances are, you'll know the answer to two or three of those questions, but in a survival situation, should you be presented with the opportunity to phone for help, you must know the answer or you're missing a vital opportunity to get rescued. Read on and easily remember how to contact the emergency services throughout most of the world.

Remember the number 112. Remember, 112. Got it? 112 ... 1+1=2, however you remember it, just remember it. It's a very important phone number. Very important indeed. Have you put it in our phone book yet? No? Sure you're going to remember it?

In 1991, the EU adopted a policy of a single emergency services number which would operate for free on any phone, landline or mobile including foreign mobiles. Though many of the 80 countries including all of the EU and beyond which adopted this number have their own services number or numbers. This single number sits alongside their own and functions either as an alias or to an additional call centre which brokers the call to the appropriate services.

The following shows the coverage of the number 112 throughout the world. In some countries outside the EU, the number only works on GSM mobile phones or only connects to one of the services, but in a survival situation, who gives a damn who you talk to?

The map shows 112, your new favourite emergency number, if available and 999 or 911 otherwise. Of course, some countries support more than one such as the UK supporting 112 and 999 and the US 112 and 911. There are a few oddballs. China has 112 as a recorded message describing local emergency numbers (which we now don't have to remember). In Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, 999 are usable with Hong Kong also supporting 112. Ecuador requires you to dial *112 on a mobile and 112 is only available in Kabul, not all of Afghanistan. It's hardly surprising the central Africa does not support 112 as most of the continent has no GSM network coverage. More and more countries are adopting 112. The International Telecommunications Union suggest that its members adopt 112 or 911 or both as an emergency number. So in an emergency, 112, 999 or 911 should be your first three options.

If the phone account has no credit, it can still make an emergency call. If the phone is blocked it will call. If the phone is locked and the phone recognises the number as an emergency number either dialed or entered as the unlock key then the phone will allow that call to be made. Most GSM phones recognise 112, 999 and 911 as emergency numbers and some accept more such as 119, 118 and 000 and will unlock and call any of them. Phone bought in Singapore are alleged not to support 112 for unlock purposes however.

GSM mobile networks prioritise emergency calls over other traffic. In addition, an emergency call can routed over any network, not just the one on which you are registered. In fact, many countries support an emergency call from a GSM phone without a SIM card. This is not the case in the UK however, where this aspect of the service was removed due to excessive untraceable hoax calls. Well done idiots!

Another feature of the GSM network is the ability for the call centre to get a general location of the phone. This is not as useful as passing a latitude and longitude or grid reference, but will aid search and rescue greatly in narrowing their search area. Given the opportunity, you may wish to ask for your location as this will aid your self rescue should you need it. Connection times may vary. In the UK, it's often second, but in another country it may be up to a minute. Never give up, this may be your best chance of rescue and survival.

An alternative in many countries is texting 112. This has some added advantages. The first is that SMS messages need very little bandwidth and can be sent in a very short window if coverage is patchy. In addition, most mobile phones will queue a text message until it gets signal unlike a voice call which will simply fail. Text messages are also carried over a single control channel rather than a voice channel of which you need two to make a voice call. This makes it easier to get through. Even if it does, it is noted that getting a reply may take up to three minutes and a text confirmation message is not sufficient to prove that an agent has or will see the message. The best strategy to mix calls and texts at appropriate intervals until you get a response.

In the UK at least, this service requires registration. Send the word 'register' to 112 and follow the instructions returned to you. Now you're set. Don't put this off. If you can only get one message through in an emergency, you don't want it to be your registration message which you'll have to follow by confirmation and then the real deal. The composition of an emergency message should contain the service required, your location and the nature of your incident. Keep your message under 140 characters to ensure that even if the phone is set up for some funky alphabet, you only need one SMS to transmit the details.

So there you have it it. 112 is much more useful than any one of the myriad emergency services numbers used throughout the world. If you find yourself in an unknown location, in more cases than not, 112 will work. Of course, if you're travelling to a known location, always look up the local emergency services numbers. You never know when you might need them.

Hopefully you'll never need to make that call.

DON'T FORGET: You can get updates and share comments on the Survival's Cool Facebook Page.

Take part in an open discussion about this article on Facebook