Triple Zero (000) is the primary national emergency number in Australia. The Emergency Call Service is operated by Telstra as a condition of its telecommunications licence, and is intended only for use in life-threatening or time-critical emergencies. Other emergency numbers in Australia are 112 for GSM mobile and satellite phones, which is answered by a Triple Zero (000) operator and 106 for TDD textphones. Triple Zero (000) was also the emergency number in Denmark and Finland until the introduction of the 112 number in 1993 and in Norway until 1986, when the emergency numbers diverted to 001 for fire brigade, 002 for police and 003 for ambulance. Those numbers changed in 1994 to 110, 112 and 113 respectively.
- Calling Triple Zero 000
- 2009 Victorian Bushfires
- 2003 overload in Melbourne
- Remote locations
- David Iredale
- 2014 TPG fine
For calls to the State Emergency Service the Australia wide number 132 500 can be used (except for in the Northern Territory). This number should only be used for non–life-threatening situations.
Prior to 1969, Australia did not have a national number for emergency services; the police, fire and ambulance services possessed many phone numbers, one for each local unit. In 1961, the office of the Postmaster General (PMG) introduced the Triple Zero (000) number in major population centres and near the end of the 1980s extended its coverage to nationwide. The number Triple Zero (000) was chosen for several reasons: technically, it suited the dialling system for the most remote automatic exchanges, particularly outback Queensland. These communities used the digit 0 to select an automatic trunk line to a centre. In the most remote communities, two 0s had to be used to reach a main centre; thus dialling 0+0, plus another 0 would call (at least) an operator. Zero is closest to the finger stall on Australian rotary dial phones, so it was easy to dial in darkness.
911 was previously considered as a potential emergency number, though existing numbering arrangements make this unfeasible due to homes and businesses being assigned numbers beginning with 911.
Calling Triple Zero (000)
Calling Triple Zero (000) connects the caller to a Telstra operator who will then connect the caller to the emergency service organisation calltaker. Telstra operators will ask the caller if they require the "Police, Fire, Ambulance?" and their location if calling from a mobile phone or nomadic service. The caller is then connected to the relevant emergency service answer point as requested by the caller.
As soon as the emergency service calltaker answers the call any available caller location information is transferred to the emergency service, however the emergency service calltaker will still question the caller to obtain correct location details in order to dispatch the correct response.
The caller's address is usually available to Telstra operators for fixed services in Australia even if the number is "private". However, emergency service organisation calltakers will always ask for the address of the emergency to be stated whenever possible to ensure an accurate location is provided – this is especially important in the case of "third-party" callers who are not personally on the scene of the incident (e.g. relatives or alarm monitoring corporations). When calling from a mobile telephone, callers should always attempt to provide accurate location details. This will assist emergency calltakers, and will expedite emergency service dispatch, as this information is not always readily available during the call.
Within Australia, Triple Zero (000) is a free call from any telephone. Dialling Triple Zero (000) (or 112) on most Australian GSM mobile phones will override any keypad lock, and if the caller's home network is out of range, the phone will attempt to use other carriers' networks to relay the call. Simcards are not required to connect mobile phones to Emergency Services. Interpreter services may also be available once connected to Emergency Services.
Due to special configuration in their firmware, some 3G or GSM mobile phones sold in Australia will redirect other emergency numbers, such as 9-1-1 and 9-9-9, to Triple Zero (000). These calls are sent out by the handset as an emergency flag to the network and as such are treated in the same way as a call to Triple Zero (000).
In the state of Victoria, emergency service dispatch and call taking for Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, the Country Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, is handled by the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA). ESTA operates three State Emergency Communications Centres, located in the Melbourne CBD, East Burwood, and Ballarat.
When a person calls 000 for emergency response within Victoria, the call is automatically directed to the relevant ESTA facility where it will be answered by the next available trained calltaker, who will collect information from the caller, and enter this into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. Using this information, a dispatcher will identify and dispatch the appropriate emergency services or resources. Emergency crews are often already being notified by the relevant services' dispatchers while the calltaker is still obtaining further information or giving advice, such as guiding the caller through CPR, obtaining details of a possible offender, or receiving further details about the exact location or situation - an initial response may be made to details as vague as a town or suburb, while the calltaker continues to get more specific location information.
ESTA is also responsible for Victorian State Emergency Service call-taking and dispatch, although this service cannot be contacted by dialling 000 as SES calls are not considered to be life-threatening. Calls for SES should be made to 132 500, however if you have already called police or another service they will have notified SES if appropriate.
Many ESTA practices and protocols are standardised across all emergency services agencies, and all agencies use the same computer network. The result is complete and instantaneous information sharing between emergency services.
2009 Victorian Bushfires
On 7 February 2009, catastrophic bushfires occurred in Victoria, otherwise known as Black Saturday bushfires. Calls to the Telstra Emergency Call Service (triple zero) were largely left unanswered for extended periods of time. All Victorian calls were automatically routed to the Melbourne emergency call centre. Normally, calls would be diverted to the Sydney emergency call centre after 15 minutes of holding in the queue, however this needed to be extended to 30 minutes so that calls did not overflow to the Sydney centre, who were busy and tasked with taking traffic from every other state nationwide. While Telstra records show 95 emergency call centre employees rostered during the 24-hour period on 7 February 2009, call pick up delays were evident due to lengthy delays at the SECC level, being ESTA. Telstra agents were left tied up on phone calls with callers, waiting for emergency services to answer, thus calls in the 000 queue were unable to be answered. Callers in a queue waiting for a Telstra agent to answer the phone were played an RVA every 30 seconds in the following terms, "You have dialled the Emergency Triple Zero number. Due to an unprecedented high volume of calls being received by Triple Zero, we are experiencing short delays in answering. Please stay on the line and you will be answered by the next available operator". This reassures callers that an extreme emergency was occurring and their call would be answered.
2003 overload in Melbourne
On 3 December 2003, floods and storms in Melbourne caused a large influx of Triple Zero (000) calls, which prevented some calls from being answered immediately. This caused some users interviewed by authorities to believe that they may have accidentally dialled the wrong number. A subsequent investigation recommended that a temporary recorded announcement be implemented during extreme events to assure callers that their calls were being connected and a delay may occur. This is not to be confused with the standard "You have dialled Emergency Triple Zero, your call is being connected" RVA, which was introduced in 2008.
Emergency services and Australia's Communications Regulator prefer the phrase "triple zero" over "triple oh" because of potential confusion and misunderstanding over keying the number when using alpha-numeric keypads, on which the letter "O" is typically located on the same key as the number "6". This could cause people to dial "666" in an emergency, not 000, or even enter the alphabet characters OOO if using a computer-based dialler or telephone software such as VoIP (a feature intended to be used for numbers advertised as a phrase or word, such as 13 CABS or 1800 REVERSE).
One major obstacle in earlier 2009 is the inability of operators of triple-0 to use GPS within GSM or CDMA systems to accurately locate distressed or injured persons using mobile phones visibly away from roads. Presently, operators must ask the caller exactly where they are. The answer to this may need to correspond to an existing road name (which may be practically impossible for distressed person(s) some kilometres away from a road) prior to the Emergency Service Organisation operator being able to dispatch an emergency service vehicle. In 2010, the Australian Communications and Media Authority are researching options that may provide improved location information for mobile services when dialling Triple Zero (000).
The New South Wales State Labor Government has admitted to failings regarding the death of David Iredale, a high school student who died of dehydration in the bush near Katoomba in late 2006. Iredale made several calls for help to 000 prior to his death. Emergency services, specifically the NSW Ambulance Service Triple-zero call centre, were accused of inappropriately handling Iredale's calls; he was not provided with any medical advice, and operators were accused of being "pre-occupied" with obtaining a street address to send help to, despite the fact that Iredale was located in the bush. An inquest set up to investigate failings in the 000 system as a result of his death identified serious issues in the practices used by 000 operators.
Another reported case of 000's failure to assist was reported in The Daily Telegraph. Mother Joanna Wicking had called for police assistance but the 000 operator chose to believe her killer instead, who had assured the operator everything was fine despite repeated calls by Joanna.
2014 TPG fine
In April 2014, telecommunications company TPG was fined $400,000 for withholding access to emergency numbers where customers had failed to pay their bills. Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg found that TPG failed to provide access on over 190 occasions between March and September 2011 and the company did not ensure that almost 6000 lines had emergency access.