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50 Years of 111


From New Zealand Fire Service, Ambulance services and the New Zealand Police

Thursday, 8 May, 2008

50 Years of 111

2008 is the 50th anniversary of the 111 emergency response service in New Zealand.

The service started as a trial in Masterton and Carterton in September 1958 and was progressively rolled out across the country, with full installation completed by 1988.

The New Zealand Fire Service, Ambulance services, the New Zealand Police and other partners are gathering this morning (8 May) to mark the anniversary and to launch a joint emergency services 111 website. They'll be joined by Police Minister Annette King.

Fire Service Director of Communication Centres, Ian Pickard, sees the 111 service as a significant investment in public safety by delivering a fast and effective way of contacting Fire, Police or Ambulance services.

“Before 111 when people wanted to report a fire, for example, they would either have to know the number for the local fire station – if they had a phone - or activate a fire alarm call box on a lamp post."

“Today, the three emergency services are answering more calls quicker, and dispatching emergency responses faster than ever before, utilising some of the most advanced systems in the world.”

St John Chief Operating Officer Tony Blaber says “We believe the new 111 website will assist in building increased public awareness and understanding of the 111 service, its links to the Ambulance, Fire and Police Communications Centres, and the vital role that communications play in mobilising emergency services”.

National Manager of the Police Communications Centres Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald says the regrettable events of four years ago did affect public confidence in the Police 111 service.

"However increased investment in our people and systems has allowed us to build the lessons from that time into our training and structures. This is paying off and we're seeing vastly improved levels of professionalism and service to the public.

"I believe Police now have a 111 service the public can, and should, have confidence in. Does that mean we'll always meet people's expectations? No - on rare occasions we won't. Our people start every shift aiming to get it right for the public, but there is no fail-safe emergency response system anywhere in the world. This is a human business and some days it's not easy."

The new emergency services 111 website can be found at www.111.govt.nz



Following the successful implementation of an emergency call service in England the New Zealand 111 emergency access service was launched as a trial in Masterton and Carterton in 1958 by the Post and Telegraph Department. The objective was to provide New Zealanders with a fast and simple means of contacting Fire, Ambulance or Police services.

When the trial began, 111 calls were answered at the Masterton toll exchange. The operators then put the calls through to the requested emergency service. This project took 30 years to progressively implement throughout the country.

111 was introduced in Wellington in 1961; Christchurch in 1964; Dunedin in 1966 and Auckland in 1968. Full installation was complete by 1988.

The number 111 was chosen because New Zealand telephones were numbered in the reverse order to British phones. This meant that the number of pulses sent by dialling 111 resulted in the same number of pulses as 999. It was also relatively simple to convert coin boxes to accept the dialled number of 111 without charge.

The installation in the Masterton and Carterton exchanges cost the Post and Telegraph Department close to 300 pounds sterling. Fire, Ambulance and Police shared the costs of direct lines, which added up to three or four pounds sterling for each service. The original red telephones were supplied to the emergency services for receipt of calls, free of charge.

One of the first 111 calls is recorded by the Wairarapa Times as being received by Ambulance services and resulted in an ambulance arriving at the scene of a sawmill accident within seven minutes.

In the first six months of service the number of calls had settled down from about five to three a day.



The 111 emergency access service in New Zealand is delivered through a partnership between Telecom NZ and the three emergency service providers, Fire, Ambulance and Police.

When a person dials 111 their call is answered by the Telecom Emergency Service Operator in either Palmerston North or Christchurch and then transferred to the required emergency service.

Fire, Ambulance and Police operate three communications centres each to receive and respond to emergency calls passed on by Telecom NZ. These centres are located in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Today New Zealand's emergency call system is aligned with international best practice and all three services are committed to continuous improvement. Staff are now answering calls faster than ever before on some of the best technical systems in the world.

In 1958, 111 emergency calls averaged three per week. Today, Telecom NZ receives 2.7 million 111 calls a year. In a country of only 4 million people, this is 52,000 calls each week; 7,400 a day or 310 an hour. Accidental misdials, hang-ups, children playing with the phone and similar reasons mean that only one-third of those are transferred to Fire, Police and Ambulance emergency response services.

Around 60% of the 2.7 million 111 calls a year calls originate from mobile phones.

Taking emergency calls can be a tough job - by the time people make the call, events have already started to go wrong. Marking the 50th year of 111 in New Zealand is an opportunity for all three services to inform the public about what to expect when an emergency call is placed and why. This is also an opportunity to acknowledge the thousands of New Zealanders who have been involved in delivering emergency communications and emergency services over the years.


© Scoop Media

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