Improvements to 999 infrastructure follow biggest tech outage in a century

The UK Government will invest in emergency service call handling upgrades after lines went down in 2023. 

yellow and white van on road during daytime

BT, the company managing the 999 system, says it ‘fell short of its own high standards’ when a nationwide technical outage left the public unable to reach switchboard operators last June. This was the most serious fault to occur in the history of the service, although no serious harm is thought to have been caused by the issue. 

A Downing Street spokesperson has now confirmed closer scrutiny will be applied to future incidents in a bid to improve communications with and between services. Telecoms regulator Ofcom is now investigating the failure, with a report due to be published this summer. 

‘The level of disruption to the service on Sunday 25 June 2023 has never been seen before and we are sincerely sorry for the distress caused,’ said BT security boss Howard Watson. ‘As outlined in the Government’s Post-Incident Review, we have put in place a comprehensive improvement plan to prevent this series of events reoccurring.’

Improvements will begin by identifying who takes responsibility for the 999 system during different threat events, for example a natural disaster or cyber attack. The development of alternative ways of contacting emergency services should a fault occur will also be prioritised, with a new blueprint set to be ready by the end of April 2024. 

‘We are determined to prevent history from repeating itself, with public safety being absolutely paramount,’ said Technology minister Michelle Donelan. ‘This is why, following a thorough review of the incident, we are working with BT to establish enhanced resilience measures, ensuring the UK is always prepared to effectively address major emergencies.’

The 999 system was originally introduced in 1937, when the UK became the first country in the world to launch emergency telephone operator provision. The roll out followed a two-year inquiry, which began after a devastating fire at Wimpole Street in London claimed the lives of five women. 

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Image: Ian Taylor


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