111 (emergency telephone number)
111 (usually pronounced one-one-one) is the emergency telephone number in New Zealand. It was first implemented in Masterton and Carterton on 29 September 1958, and was progressively rolled out nationwide with the last exchanges converting in 1988.
Before the introduction of 111, access to emergency services was complicated. For the quarter of New Zealand’s then 414,000 telephone subscribers that were still on manual exchanges, one would simply pick up the telephone and ask the answering operator for the police, ambulance, or fire service by name. However, the problem on manual exchanges was that calls were answered first-come-first-served, which meant on busy exchanges, emergency calls could be delayed. For automatic exchanges, one would need to know the local police, ambulance or fire service’s telephone number, or look it up in the telephone directory, or dial the toll operator and ask them to place the call. The problem was that the numbers were different for each exchange, and again, there was no way to tell emergency calls apart from regular calls. Auckland, for example, had 40 telephone exchanges, and the telephone directory had 500 pages to search through to find the right number, although the separate emergency numbers for fire, police and ambulance in the main service area (e.g. Auckland, but not for not minor exchanges) were listed in bold on the first page.
Following the 1947 Ballantynes fire in Christchurch, fire officer Arthur Varley was recruited from the UK to bring about a reform of the fire service. Familiar with Britain’s 999 system, he campaigned for the setting up of a universal emergency telephone number across the country. In mid-1957, a committee was set up to institute a common emergency number across New Zealand, consisting of the Post and Telegraph Department, the Police, the Health Department, and the Fire Service. In early 1958, the Postmaster General approved the provision of the service using the number 111.
111 was specifically chosen to be similar to Britain's 999 service. With pulse dialling, New Zealand telephones pulse in reverse to the UK - dialling 0 sent ten pulses, 1 sent nine, 2 sent eight, 3 sent seven, etc. in New Zealand, while in the UK, dialling 1 sent one pulse, 2 sent two, etc. In the early years of 111, the telephone equipment was based on British Post Office equipment, except for this unusual orientation. Therefore, dialling 111 on a New Zealand telephone sent three sets of nine pulses to the exchange, exactly the same as the UK's 999. Number "9" in New Zealand (or "1" in Britain) was not used for the start of telephone numbers because of the likelihood of accidental false calls from open-wire lines tapping together etc.
The telephone exchange in Masterton was replaced in 1956, and was the first exchange to have the technology installed for the 111 service. Hence Masterton and nearby Carterton were the first towns in the country to get the new service.
The 111 service began on 29 September 1958 in the two towns. When a subscriber dialled 111 at either exchange, the call was routed by the automatic exchange onto one of three dedicated lines to the toll switchboard at the Masterton exchange (although the exchange connected calls automatically, long-distance (toll) calls still had to be connected manually through an operator). A red light glowed on the switchboard panel, and another red light would glow on top of the switchboard. Two hooters also sounded, one in the exchange and the other in the building passage. The first operator to plug into the line took the call, and a supervisor would plug into the line to help if the situation became difficult.
Dedicated lines connected the toll switchboard to the Masterton police station, fire brigade, and the hospital, where they were connected to a special red telephone. The line connected to the fire station, when it rang, also sounded the station alarm bells. A similar arrangement was employed at the police station, while at the hospital the call went to the local switchboard where it was identified by a red light and a distinctive bell.
Among the first 111 calls was a call for an ambulance after an accident at a sawmill, and call to the fire service after a rubbish tip fire in Carterton. The first hoax call also occurred on the first day – a caller dialled 111 to ask for the address for a Carterton hotel.
After the introduction of 111 in Masterton and Carterton, the service soon expanded to most major towns and cities, including from 1961 the main centres like Wellington, where the multi-exchange area included some pre-war Rotary exchanges.
By the mid-1980s all but a few rural exchanges had the service, and by 1988, 111 was available on every exchange in mainland New Zealand.
The dates of installation in some major towns and cities were:-
In New Zealand in 2004, the police answering of emergency telephone service came under sustained scrutiny for systemic problems.
A case that caused particular concern was the disappearance of Iraena Asher, who vanished in October 2004 after she rang the police in distress and was instead sent a taxi that went to the wrong address.
On 11 May 2005 a severely critical independent report into the Police Communications Centres was released. It expressed ongoing concerns for public safety, and identified inadequate management, poor leadership, inadequate training, understaffing, underutilised technology and a lack of customer focus as being underlying risks for systemic failures. The report made over 60 recommendations for improvement, including recommending a 15 to 20 year strategy to move away from using 111 as an emergency telephone number because of problems with misdialling due to the repeated digits.
Despite ambiguous reporting, these issues were never with the 111 service itself, and did not impact fire or ambulance services. The problems were restricted solely to the Police Communications Centres.
Any phone within New Zealand can dial 111, including payphones, even without money or credit. Mobile phones must have a valid SIM card installed.
Mobile networks will treat a 111 call as the highest priority, disconnecting another call if necessary to allow it to go through. If the mobile network your phone is connected to has limited or no coverage where you're calling from, an attempt will automatically be made to access another mobile network to ensure the call is connected.
Upon dialling 111, the caller will first hear a recorded message: "You have dialed 111 emergency; your call is being connected." This message was added in 2008 to allow people who have accidentally dialled 111 to hang up straight away. The Spark operator will then answer: "111 emergency, do you require fire, ambulance or police?". The operator will then connect the caller to the required service: "Connecting you to [service] now, please stay on the line with me." The Spark operator will remain connected with the caller until the specific service's communications centre has answered, and two way communication has been confirmed.
Emergency calls for some other services also use 111, but are still connected to one of the three services. For example, search and rescue or civil defence emergencies are connected to police. Gas leaks and hazardous substance emergencies are connected to the fire service.
In the interest of international compatibility, calls to foreign emergency numbers (112, 911, 999 etc.), will be automatically diverted to 111. On average, 48% of calls to 111 are non-genuine. Over time, several measures have been introduced to attempt to reduce the number of non-genuine calls, such as the recorded message played to callers as soon as they dial 111 and charging for non-genuine calls made from landlines.
In May 2017, New Zealand introduced the Emergency Caller Location Information (ECLI) Service for providing the location of 111 mobile callers. ECLI has two sources of location:
- Advanced Mobile Location (both Google's Android Emergency Location Service, and since March 2018 Apple's AML for iOS); and
- Network based location to provide a mobile callers probable location using statistical analysis to derive the callers probable location based on the cell tower connecting the emergency call (this is not triangulation as triangulation requires multiple cell towers which is not the norm for rural areas) with an accuracy of 1+ kilometer;
Depending on a number of environmental conditions the location provided can be as precise as 4 meters using the GNSS capabilities of an smartphone. All location data is only be held for 60 minutes and is then deleted to comply with the regulated conditions of use of ECLI as set by the NZ Privacy Commissioner.
Other New Zealand emergency numbers
Other than 111, the following national emergency numbers are used for different services:-
- *555: traffic incidents (dialable from mobile phones only)
- 0800161610: Deaf emergency fax (connects to police)
- 0800161616: Deaf emergency textphone/TTY (connects to police)
- 0800764766: Poisons and hazardous chemicals emergency
- 0800611116: medical advice ("Healthline", run by Ministry of Health)
- 0800808400: railway emergencies (KiwiRail Network)
- 0800501122: Military Police (NZDF Military Police)
Other emergency numbers vary from area to area, or from service provider to service provider. These numbers can be found under the "Emergency Information" section on pages 2 and 3 of the local White Pages telephone directory.
International usage of 111
- In South Korea, 111 is a special telephone number for accessing National Intelligence Service to report crimes that threaten national security.
- In England and Scotland, 111 is a non-emergency medical helpline provided by the NHS.
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- National Intelligence Service (in Korean) Archived 2005-09-10 at the Library of Congress Web Archives