The Government Is Reviewing The Triple-0 Emergency Call System As 67% Of Calls Are Now Made From Mobiles

Photo: Ambulance Service of NSW

The Australian Government is reviewing the 53-year-old emergency call service Triple-0 to see if it needs to adapt to new technology, with calls from mobile phones now outnumbering landline calls two to one.

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull asked his department to undertake the review as the Government prepares to put the national service out to tender two years from now in 2016. Telstra currently operates the Triple-0, but it is “voice only” in a era of SMS, VoIP, social media and GPS.

One of the problems facing emergency services operators when a call comes from a mobile is that it can’t be accurately located in the way it automatically happens for a home phone line. That’s a problem when with 67% of calls in 2012-13 came from mobiles.

There are technical issues that prevent the Triple-0 operator tapping into your phone’s GPS system, so the location is more broadly determined by the surrounding mobile phone towers and emergency services are saying it takes longer to respond to mobile calls because they have to get more details on the exact location. And while they can ask the mobile carrier for help, the answer still takes around 10 minutes. Authorities are working towards a better solution, but it’s still limited by the capability of the network

The good news is that there’s a smartphone app, Emergency+, for GPS-enabled phones, to help them find you. And did you know you can also call 112 – the international mobile emergency number – for help?

The Department of Communications has released a discussion paper to canvas the issues under review, and is also conducting an online survey.

One of the interesting details revealed in the discussion paper is the results of 2012 research into the possibilities for contacting emergency services.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2014

The above chart shows that when it comes to ways to contact Triple-0, 60% liked SMS, just ahead of a smartphone app (57%) and dedicated website (56%), with nearly half thinking a video call was a good idea. Resistance to new technologies was fairly low, with less than one in five (17%) saying the alternatives to a traditional call had no appeal.

Another interesting chart is how people felt about handing over personal details, with smartphone users more willing to share via an app than traditional calls.

Below are the smartphone figures, which are far higher, especially when it comes to contacts, medical information and age, compared to traditional callers.

By comparison, the figures for people making the call are: 93% are willing for the operator to have information on their current location, on 81% would allow contact information, and 72% their name before it plummets to 55% medical information and 54% for age.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2014

The other fascinating statistic the data reveals is that more than one-third of the nearly 9 million calls made to Triple 0 in 2012-13 were not emergency situations. Those 3.1 million calls (35%) were either malicious, requests for assistance of information that’s not life-threatening or misdials.

The survey and written submissions close on Friday, 22 August, 2014.

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