Prior to 1960, anyone wishing to place an emergency call to agencies such as the police, fire or ambulance needed to know the number of their nearest service. This presented difficulties, especially for people on holidays who did not have ready access to such numbers in an emergency. If the telephone they were calling from was on a manual exchange, the then Post Master General (PMG) operator would be able to connect them. However, if the service was on an automatic exchange they would have no option but to find the number before dialling.
In 1961, the PMG introduced the concept of a single national number to provide access to emergency services. The number chosen was Triple Zero (000). There are various explanations for the choice of this number, including number plan issues (at that time zero (0) prefixes were typically assigned to provide access to operator services such as fault reporting), technical issues (pulse dialling of 111 could be falsely generated on early exchanges by 'jiggling' the handset'), and user issues such as the number being nearest the finger stall on a rotary dial telephone for ease of location at night or in smoke.
With the advent of the Emergency Call Service, the PMG (and later, Telecom Australia) operators took on a key role. It was now necessary to intercept all Triple Zero (000) calls in order to determine to which State or Territory emergency service organisation (police, fire or ambulance) the call needed to be switched to. This move saw the operators return to a role they had provided in the days of manual exchanges, the delivery of emergency response calls. Initially the Emergency Call Service was only introduced in the major population centres and it was not until the mid 1980s that the service was eventually extended throughout the Australian network.
With the advent of digital capabilities in the network and features such as Calling Line Identification (CLI), Telecom Australia commenced planning for a major enhancement of the Emergency Call Service as early as 1989. This enabled the service address to be retrieved by matching the CLI stored on a database and then transferring both the voice call and the address data to the emergency service organisation to enable them to achieve quicker response times.
There was no legislative or regulatory requirement on Telecom Australia as a carrier to provide the switching of emergency calls until 1991. Today, the performance of Telstra's switching role forms part of the conditions of its licence and is a requirement under the ACMA's Telecommunications (Emergency Call Persons) Determination 1999.
Callers only need to dial Triple Zero (000) and their call will be answered by the Emergency Call Person, who will then connect the caller to the requested emergency service organisation (police, fire, ambulance). Calls to the Emergency Call Service can be made free of charge and calls can be made without coins from public payphones.
For more information about the Emergency Call Service (Triple Zero) go to www.triplezero.gov.au
For more information about the Emergency Call Service (106) go to www.relayservice.gov.au.