Phone technology could prevent 999 mix-ups

Mobile phone technology could prevent needless 999 call-out tragedies where emergency crews cannot find the caller because they were given the wrong information.

Phone technology could prevent 999 mix-ups

The claim was made on the first day of the Chief Fire Officers Association’s annual conference.

Speaking at the meeting, which involves senior managers within the emergency sector, Tony O’Brien, executive director of the European Emergency Number Association, noted that there were a number of tragedies during ambulance and firefighter call-outs in recent years.

However, he said many could be prevented if existing technology was better coordinated to allow emergency crews to receive a person’s exact location when they call on a mobile.

Under the current system, when someone calls 999 using a mobile phone but either passes out, cannot be contacted or gives the wrong information to the call centre, emergency crews can only track their location to the nearest mobile mast.

In rural locations, this can mean people tasked with saving someone’s life must search along a “two or three mile radius” to find the individual.

However, Mr O’Brien said existing technology allows for each person’s exact GPS location to be logged, meaning emergency crews can track individuals by where their mobile is instead of the nearest mobile mast.

“The tenant of what we’re saying is that not having caller location in emergency situations can mean crews simply do not know where the caller is.

“This information should be automatically provided, but across Europe, it’s not. It would cost mobile phone companies money to change the software slightly, but it should be done.

“There have been talks with the European Commission about it, and they are quite early discussions, but this is already being done in the US and it’s already showing to be of benefit,” he insisted.

The potential need for the development of existing technology to further help fire fighters and ambulances was brought into sharp focus last year after a tragic death in Tralee, Co Kerry.

Last June, a month-old baby died in a cot death. An ambulance sought by one of his parents after a 999 call was sent to the wrong county.

There was a miscommunication between the family and the operator taking the call which led to the ambulance initially being sent to a location in Co Cork with a similar address, instead of the Co Kerry town.

While he stressed he did not know the exact details of the case, Mr O’Brien said such incidents could be avoided by introducing a new mobile tracking system.

Meanwhile, the conference, which continues today, was opened by Environment Minister Phil Hogan, who raised concerns about deaths by fires across the country.

Mr Hogan noted the significant improvement in recent years which saw 24 people die in fires last year — the lowest number in four decades.

However, the minister said that the fact there was a “100% increase” in deaths by fire in the first three months of this year was a cause of concern.

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