Written by Sarah Sheil with Amalie Bjornavold,
EU citizenship has made it much easier to live, work and travel across the European Union. As a consequence of this heightened mobility, a common emergency number was introduced by the EU as a safety net – capable of reaching police, ambulance and fire brigade services free of charge, wherever you are on the continent. Even though 255 million mobile emergency calls are made each year, only 48 % of travellers are currently aware that 112 exists.
The intention behind creating a single European emergency number was to ensure that urgent help is accessible to anyone, regardless of where they might find themselves in Europe. From being accustomed to learning a new number wherever they went, travellers now only need to remember one: 112. Furthermore, a distinct feature of 112 is that the operator will be able to speak in several languages – the language of the country, and neighbouring countries, and English, and French or German in most cases. Significant challenges remain, though, especially with regard to the lack of awareness of its existence and location accuracy, given that each year, approximately 300 000 callers are unable to locate where they are. While emergency operators see the address at which a fixed phone is registered, with mobile phones, only the closest network antenna of the caller is identified, with the coverage area largely dependent on how densely populated the area is, sometimes causing difficulties in finding the victim.
Implementing the single European emergency number
112 was first standardised in 1972 with a recommendation by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications, and further in the EU by the adoption of a Council Decision introducing it in 1991. Since then, 112 has grown to either replace national emergency numbers (in eight EU Member States: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Sweden) or operate alongside them. The 2002 Universal Service Directive provided detailed requirements for Member States on the implementation of the emergency number. All are required to ensure that both fixed and mobile phone users can reach 112 free of charge; that they are handled irrespective of whether other emergency numbers in the country exist; that operators can establish the location of callers, and that awareness-raising activities are performed – such as celebrating 112 day on 11 February each year. Since the adoption of the 2009 Roaming Regulation, mobile network operators are required to send a text message to inform travellers of 112 when they arrive in a new country. Although developments are under way, locating victims can still be difficult. The Universal Service Directive was updated in 2009 to encourage the use of new technologies in improving location services. An example of this in practice is the adoption of the 2015 eCall Regulation, requiring all new vehicles to be equipped with eCall technology as of April 2018. eCall will automatically dial 112 and locate the vehicle’s whereabouts should the caller be unconscious. This is expected to reduce emergency response times by up to 50 % in rural areas, and 40 % in urban areas. Support for Advanced Mobile Location (AML), a technology installed in mobile phones that allows emergency operators to track a caller’s location, is also growing. The Help 112 project, funded by the Commission, is facilitating the deployment of AML. The Commission is monitoring the correct implementation of EU law on 112, and can take legal action if necessary.
What to do in an emergency
In calling the emergency operator for urgent help, one must immediately provide information on what has happened, where you are, and what kind of help you need from what kind of service – whether it is the police, the fire brigade or an ambulance. One should never hang up until the operator tells you to do so. Nor should 112 ever be used for non-emergencies – to ask for directions, information or road conditions, for instance.
This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.