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112 - Europe's single emergency number - guide

11 February 2011
by eub2 -- last modified 11 February 2011

To mark "European 112 Day" on 11th February, the European Commission is urging EU Member States to step up their efforts to increase public awareness of the existence of 112, the number which can be used in all Member States to reach emergency services. An EU-wide survey released today shows around three out of four EU citizens still do not know this life-saving number. However, EU telecoms rules require Member States to make their citizens aware of the 112 number. To increase the protection of EU citizens, Member States are further required to improve the accuracy and reliability of caller location information under the new EU telecoms rules, which must be implemented into national law by 25 May this year.


What is 112?

112 is the single European emergency telephone number which you can dial in case of an emergency in any EU Member State. Any citizen in the EU should be able to reach emergency services free of charge when dialling 112, from their fixed or mobile phones and from public payphones.

How does 112 work?

People calling 112 – whether from a fixed line or a mobile phone – are connected to an operator. Depending on how emergency services are organised in the country in question, the operator will either deal with the request directly or transfer it to one of the emergency services (such as ambulance, fire brigade or police).

In many cases, operators are able to answer in English and other European languages. Country specific information about languages is available on the 112 website of the European Commission.

Each Member State is responsible for the organisation of its own emergency services, including the response to calls to 112 and to national emergency calls.

In which situations can people use 112?

People can call 112 in an emergency requiring an ambulance, the fire brigade or the police. 112 should not be used for non-emergencies, such as information on telephone numbers or addresses, road conditions or weather reports.

Does 112 replace national emergency numbers?

Not in most Member States, where 112 operates alongside existing national emergency numbers.

Seven countries (Denmark, Finland, Malta, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania and Sweden) have decided to establish 112 as their main emergency number and have been promoting it as the single phone number for all emergency services.

When was 112 introduced?

Twenty years ago the EU's Council of Ministers took the decision to introduce 112 as the European single emergency telephone number. Since 2003, EU telecoms rules have set out specific obligations for EU countries, which the European Commission is monitoring and enforcing with infringement proceedings where necessary. These rules were strengthened in December 2009 and the new rules need to be implemented in Member States by May 2011.

What are the EU rules for 112?

Since 2003, EU legislation requires EU countries to ensure that any citizen in the EU can reach emergency services free of charge when dialling 112, either from their fixed telephone line, payphones or from their mobile phones.

In addition, 112 calls must be appropriately answered and handled. In practice, this means that the quality of response to emergency calls should be the same, irrespective of whether 112 or a national emergency number is used.

EU countries must also ensure that information about the location of the person calling 112 is made available to emergency services so that they can find accident victims quickly. The ability to locate the caller in case of an emergency may be of great significance if the person is unable to state his or her location, which can happen in particular when calling from mobile phones or while travelling abroad.

Finally, EU countries must inform citizens (nationals and visitors) of the existence of 112 as the European emergency number and under which circumstances they should use it.

The July 2009 Roaming Regulation established that citizens should receive information about 112 by SMS when they travel across the EU.

New EU telecoms rules adopted in December 2009 strengthened the 112 provisions further, in particular by requiring Member States to ensure quicker provision of caller location information, to raise awareness of 112 amongst travellers and to improve access to 112 for people with disabilities and by extending 112 access obligations for certain Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers. These new EU telecoms rules must be implemented in all EU countries by May 2011.

Why should Member States promote 112?

As Europeans increasingly travel to other EU countries for business, study or holidays, a single number across the EU enables them to seek help even under the stress of an emergency situation. For example, it is no good dialling the UK emergency number 999 if you're in Spain or Austria's number to call an ambulance 144 if you're in Germany. More than 95% of EU citizens agree on the usefulness of having one emergency number available in all European countries. 112 therefore complements the freedom of movement that the Single European Market already offers to EU citizens.

What is the European Commission's role in 112?

The European Commission monitors the implementation of 112 in EU countries through the Communication Committee, a body that unites the representatives of Member States' authorities responsible for telecoms. The Commission has also set up an expert group on emergency access of national officials representing emergency response centres, civil protection and telecoms authorities. This group seeks practical solutions to problems experienced by the emergency services at local, regional or national levels and deals with issues related to the application of new technologies for communication with emergency services.

The Commission also takes legal action against countries that fail to comply with EU rules. To ensure that 112 works properly in all EU countries, the European Commission monitors and requests relevant information from Member States and has so far launched 17 infringement proceedings against 15 countries due to the lack of availability of 112, of caller location or of appropriate handling of 112 calls. Whilst a case on lack of caller location information against Italy is still pending, the other cases have since been closed as national authorities have taken the necessary steps to comply with EU rules.

The Commission is further studying the situation in 10 Member States (Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania The Netherlands Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK) to verify whether information on caller location is in practice provided for all fixed subscribers and/or users of mobile phone services while roaming.

The Commission is also financing research projects and other initiatives, such as eCall for automatic 112 calls in case of road accidents or Reach112 for improved access to emergency services by disabled people through a combined transmission of voice, video and real time text.

The Commission launched a 112 website in June 2008 to inform citizens about how 112 works in all EU Member States. The website contains an interactive section dedicated to children and information from the latest reports on 112.

How widely known is 112?

Even though 112 has been operational for a number of years, its existence is still not widely known. A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that only 26% of EU citizens are aware they can call this number from anywhere in the EU. Just over a third of respondents to the survey believe that people are adequately informed about 112. The European Commission is therefore encouraging Member States to step up their awareness raising efforts and is assessing whether Member States are fulfilling their obligation to adequately inform citizens about 112.

In the Czech Republic, Finland, Luxembourg, Poland and Slovakia more than half of the population knows about 112. However, Greece, Italy and the UK continue to have the lowest awareness levels in the EU with less than 10% of their citizens knowing about 112. Since last year, there has been a very modest increase of 112 awareness at EU level (24% in 2009 compared to 25% in 2010). Only in Belgium, Hungary; Latvia, Poland and Slovakia are citizens significantly more aware of 112 in 2010 than in 2009.

To increase the safety of EU citizens travelling and visiting third countries, the Commission promotes the use of the European emergency number 112 to access emergency services in particular in neighbouring EU countries where more people travel from and to the EU.

What is European 112 Day?

On 11th February 2009, the European Commission, together with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU established 11th February (11.2) as European 112 Day to increase awareness about the number (IP/09/240).

This year, the European 112 Day is marked throughout the EU with different activities, including people gathering to form the number 112 in Poland and activities at schools in several Member States.

The European Commission has today updated its dedicated website on 112.

Further information, 112 website

Source: European Commission

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