The emergency services number you probably never knew existed

It turns out 999 isn’t always the answer

We’ve all been there — or, everyone who gets scared sleeping in the house on their own definitely has. While we’re in the middle of a (usually unjustified) freak-out, we’ve found ourselves wondering: what if I ring 999 but have to stay quiet because the intruder might hear?

It turns out, amidst the paranoia, we may have a point.

If you call 999, you’ll be asked which service you require, before being put through to the police. If you don’t speak, you’ll be requested to make a noise — like a cough or a tap on the handset — to indicate the call is an emergency and to prove you haven’t rung by mistake. But if you can’t, because — say — making a noise could alert the burglar to your whereabouts, the operator will likely hang up and the police won’t attend.

Wait, what?

Apparently in the ‘overwhelming majority of cases’, silent calls are accidental — caused by children playing or phones in pockets — so aren’t automatically investigated. In 2001, Silent Solutions was set up to deal with the ‘possibility of it being a genuine caller who cannot speak’. The service gives callers who ring ‘999’ the option to press ’55’ to alert the services their call isn’t an accident, without having to actually make a noise. Then the police operator will ask a series of questions in an attempt to work out what’s going on.

A police spokesperson told the Express & Echo: ‘Please do not think that just because you dial 999 that police will attend […] We totally understand that sometimes people are unable or too afraid to talk, however it must be clear that we will not routinely attend a silent 999 call.’

Whether you’re prone to paranoia or not, the ’55’ option could be helpful if you find yourself in danger but unable to speak.

Who knew? Spread the word, people.

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