NG 999, 112 bringing modernisation to UK, European emergency communications

In an era where smartphones are ubiquitous, being able to use all their functions – video, photos, text – is mostly not possible when making emergency calls to 999 in the UK or 112 throughout Europe.

A majority of emergency call centres are still analogue, relying on the same phone technology that’s been employed for decades.

As a work-around, a caller might text a picture or video from a wreck or crime scene to the emergency call taker’s personal smartphone. But what if that video becomes evidence in an investigation? The caller’s phone might be needed in evidence, and it might take time to get it back.

This is one of the scenarios officials throughout Europe and the UK hope to rectify as emergency communications move toward “Next Generation” technology, or NG 999 (in the UK) or NG 112 (in the European Union).

With NG 999 or NG 112 technology the video is captured inside the emergency communications centre. Eventually, the goal of the NG 999 and NG 112 mandates is to get to the point where communicating with an emergency call taker can be similar to a video chat where one can share files, photos and text into the interface, and the information can be transferred and shared from the first call taker to the dispatcher, police in the field, or neighbouring jurisdictions.

An example of this is, if a relative calls 999 from Scotland to report that their mother in Birmingham, England, is having a medical episode, the call would be routed to a control room near the caller in Scotland, but since the emergency is in Birmingham, the NG999 operator will seamlessly be able to transfer the details already provided on the initial call automatically, when the call is transferred to the authorities in Birmingham, so that the worried son in Scotland doesn’t have to repeat the information .

The plan for NG 999 and NG 112 is to go much farther.

In Britain, the goal is for systems to support Voice over IP, wearables, smart speakers and digital home assistants by 2025, according to a 2021 white paper by the British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO).

In the future, new interfaces will be able to handle data from apps, two-way messaging and information from smart sensors, “so, for instance, if there is a sharp temperature rise in a building it would automatically trigger a request for fire and rescue services,” the BAPCO white paper states.

The level of readiness for such modernisation varies across the UK and Europe, where emergency communications are often handled by separate, regional agencies. Some countries, however, have begun to modernise on a national level.

The need for some standardisation of NG 999 efforts, led by the government, has been a topic of discussion in the UK, according to the BAPCO white paper.

“Not all agencies seem to be aware of the possibilities available to them,” the white paper states. “A widely published and promoted roadmap would enable them to build available enhancements into their own development roadmaps.”

These roadmaps demonstrate the capability of NG 999 and NG 112 technologies to transform the way people engage with their emergency services and improve the manner in which services are delivered.

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Words: Klaus Dalgaard, Business Development Manager, Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial division