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What to do when you need to call 999 but can't speak


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Around 20,000 silent 999 calls – calls during which no response to the operator’s questions is detected, are made a day. However, a silent 999 call alone will NOT automatically bring help.

This is something that many people do not know including victim Kerry Power, who, in 2013, was attacked by an ex-partner and stalker. She had dialled 999 under the impression that a silent call would be enough to engage a police response. She was found fatally strangled the next day.

Image Credit: Photo by from Pexels

In light of the National Stalking Awareness Week, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has led the ‘Make Yourself Heard’ campaign alongside Power’s family and other organizations such as Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council. 

The campaign aims to raise awareness of the UK-wide system could initially coughing or touching the keypad, then pressing 55 to alert the police that the person is unable to speak. This been in place since 2002 and is yet largely unknown. Callers who do not know about the system could be assumed to be hoax callers or calling by accident and cut off.

Out of the 20,000 silent calls received daily, a quarter are transferred to the so-called Silent Solutions system – a system set up to give callers the option to make the operator aware that urgent police help is needed by pressing ‘55’ when prompted. However, out of the calls put through to the system, only 1 per cent actually end up using the prompt to alert authorities. 

Lisa Johnson, Manager of Direct Services at Women’s Aid, said:

"For a long time, we have been encouraging survivors to use the Silent Solution system to make a silent 999 call if they feel it would be dangerous for them to speak to the call operator. That's why we are pleased to work with the IOPC to help raise awareness of the system so that survivors can call 999 without putting themselves at further risk and prevent further lives, like that of Kerry Power, from being taken."

The IOPC has gathered a step by step guide on what to do when having to call 999 but speaking to the operator is not an option:

When you first call 999

Calls are directed to call centres and will be answered by BT operators. They will ask which service you need. If no service is requested, but anything suspicious is heard throughout the process, BT operators will connect you to a police call handler.

If you are calling from a landline

Because it’s less likely that 999 calls are made by accident from landlines, the Silent Solution system is not used.

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.

If BT operators cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed, such as situations where there is no request for an emergency, the caller does not answer questions, or only background noise can be heard, then you will be connected to a police call handler as doubt exists.

In cases where the BT operator is concerned for your safety and the handset is misplaced or put down, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds and if picked up again, the call will be connected to the police.

If you are calling 999 from a mobile, IOPC Regional Director Catrin Evans recommends the following:

“It is always best to actually speak to a police call handler if you can, even if by whispering, but if you are putting yourself or someone else in danger by making a sound, there is something you can do.

“Make yourself heard by coughing, tapping the handset or once prompted by the automated system, by pressing 55.”

The latter is essential especially if making a sound would put you or someone else in danger and the BT operator cannot decide whether an emergency service is needed as your call then will be transferred to the Silent Solution system. The system will then prompt you to dial the two numbers after a short police message.

If you press 55, they will be notified and transfer the call to the police. If you don't, the call will be terminated.

However, pressing 55 does not allow police to track your location, and while it is possible, it is crucial to be aware that it is complicated so any indication you can give of your location, even if you have to whisper, is vital. 


What then?

When transferred to your local police force, the police call handler will attempt to communicate 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.

Additionally, it is possible to text 999 when based anywhere in the UK and experiencing a genuine emergency, but to use this service prior registration is necessary by texting ‘register’ to 999. In an emergency, it is important to include which service is needed, what the crisis or problem is and where you are. 

And while it can happen to anyone to call 999 by mistake, especially on a mobile phone, it is recommended that you stay on the line to inform the operator no help is needed.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, contact the police, or Women’s Aid on their 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

More information about the IOPC and the campaign is available here, or you can follow #SilentSolution and #MakeYourselfHeard on Twitter.

Lead Image Credit: from Pexels

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