All 999 calls are directed to call centres and after being answered by BT operators, who ask which service you need. If no service is requested but something suspicious is heard throughout the process, BT operators will put you through to police.
If you call 999 from a mobile
It is always best to speak to the operator if you can, even if its whispering. You may also be asked to cough or tap the keys on your phone in response to questions.
If making a sound would put you or someone else in danger and the BT operator cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, you will be transferred to the Silent Solution system.
Once through you will hear an automated message, which lasts for 20 seconds and begins with ‘you are through to the police’. It will ask you to press ‘55’ to be put through to police call management.
The BT operator will remain on the line and listen.
If you press 55, they will be notified and transfer the call to the police who will try to establish if there is an emergency and your location.
If you don’t press 55, the call will be terminated. Pressing 55 does not allow police to track your location.
We will not always send officers to silent calls so it is important for callers to try and provide as much information as they can – in any way they can. Each call is assessed individually on all information available including previous calls.
When transferred, the police call handler will try to speak with you by asking simple yes or no questions. If you are not able to speak, listen carefully to the questions and instructions from the call handler so they can assess your call and arrange help if needed.
If you call 999 from a landline
Because it’s less likely that 999 calls are made by accident from landlines, the Silent Solution system is not used.
If an emergency call from a landline is received and:
- There is no request for an emergency;
- The caller does not answer questions;
- Or only background noise can be heard and BT operators cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed,
Callers will be connected to a police call handler as doubt exists.
If you replace the handset, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds in case you pick it up again. If you pick up again during this time and the BT operator is concerned for your safety, the call will be connected to police.
When 999 calls are made from landlines, information about where you’re calling from should be automatically available to the call handlers to help provide a response.
A common misconception is that once you've pressed '55' you can hang up as the operator will track your location and dispatch a team.
Call handlers can only automatically track locations of landlines, not mobile phones.
It is important callers stay on the line and allow our trained callers to find alternative ways to trace your location.
Another common misconception is that all silent calls from a mobile phone will be connected to police, which is not correct.
A completely silent call, if the caller did not respond, would be cleared by the operator. BT operator procedures state that the following calls can be released without connection to police:
- Calls with no background sound at all
- Calls with background sounds but where no speech can be detected e.g.: passing traffic/footsteps/paper rustling with no voices/shouts or screams
- No service is requested and nothing suspicious can be heard in the background
It is only where the line remains open and there is background speech/voices/random persistent key presses that the call is connected to police.