Think! Do You Really Need To Call 999?

Think! Do You Really Need To Call 999?

Emergency: n, pl An unforeseen or sudden occurrence, especially of danger demanding immediate action.

999 is the number we dial in an emergency to request the police, fire & rescue, ambulance service and coast guard. Unfortunately for every genuine emergency call there seems to be almost as many prank, inappropriate and sometimes just ridiculous calls…….These are examples of some actual calls received by the emergency services in the Sussex & Surrey area recently.

  • A man called the fire brigade, because his friend threw his shoes onto the roof of the supermarket and he can’t reach them.
  • A woman called because she couldn’t find Homebase and she was stressed.
  • A man dialled 999 because it was raining and he wanted the police to give him a lift home. He threatened to complain to the PCC when he was told no!


To highlight the volume of calls that come through 999 that are not emergencies (and often not even a crime), in February this year West Midlands Police Tweeted their calls for 24 hours. Not including the pocket dials or kids accidentally dialling whilst playing with a phone, West Mids Tweeted around 30 non-emergency or hoax calls made. These included 9 calls relating to payment disputes between taxi drivers and passengers, and two reports of serious crimes (one a sexual assault and the other a shooting), both of which turned out to be false and malicious. Some of the other calls that day included

  • A man wanting the police to come out to frighten his sister
  • A woman calling because she couldn’t access her lap top
  • A man called to say he had a heart problem….as he was in love with a girl he didn’t know
  • A woman wanting to report a complaint about British Gas
  • A drunk male called because he couldn’t find his house keys
  • One person even dialled 999 to ask how to call 101

I admit that some calls were so ridiculous I did laugh, but this is actually a very serious issue. Every non-emergency call ties up the 999 lines and could delay a genuine caller getting through. 999 should be used for emergencies only. Often people call because they don’t actually know who they should be calling.

Fire & Rescue services often report being called out if a strange creature has entered some ones house. They recommend if you find an unexpected animal in your home, call the RSPCA.


Image from the BBC

The police advise that unless a crime is happening there and then you should report it on the 101 number. Only dial 999 for crimes that are in progress, if there is violence being used or threatened or if there is a road accident where people have been injured or the road is blocked. Reports of graffiti, dog fouling, abandoned vehicles, fly tipping and vandalism should be directed to your Council.


Image from West Midlands Police

Generally, you should call an ambulance for life-threatening emergencies such as:

  • loss of consciousness
  • acute confused state and fits that are not stopping
  • persistent, severe chest pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped

Image from NHS Local

If you are just feeling under the weather, have a sprain or strain, vomiting or diarrhoea, or minor cuts or bruises you should call your GP or NHS Direct/NHS 111, or go to a minor injuries unit or NHS walk-in centre. Even if you are then advised to go to A&E, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to call an ambulance. Unless you need urgent medical treatment or medication en route, see if someone can drive you.



Before you dial 999 just think….is it truly an emergency? Is someone’s life or property in danger? If the answer is no you probably don’t need to call 999, but that said if you are really not sure it is better to call 999 than not – The emergency call centre staff will take the details of the situation and if necessary arrange for the emergency services to be dispatched.

If you call 999 by accident (i.e. a pocket dial), stay on the line. It is far better to confirm with the operators that it was a mistake, otherwise they have to treat the call as a potential emergency in progress which is a waste of valuable time.

If you need to dial 999 you can do so from any phone – even if your mobile keypad is locked or you are out of credit. Depending on which service you require you will be asked different questions, but always be prepared to give your name, the telephone number you are calling from (so they can call you back if you get cut off), your location, and as much information about the situation as possible (what happened, are people hurt/unconscious etc). Try to speak clearly and calmly, don’t worry about the time it takes answering questions as the operator can dispatch services while you are on the phone. You should also stay on the line. The operators can talk you through what to do and what will happen and you can also update them of any changes.

If you are deaf or speech-impaired you can still access 999 services from a mobile phone by sending an SMS text message to 999. Your phone will need to be registered with the emergency SMS service. You can find out more from the emergency SMS website.