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June 29, 2023

BT set to deliver update on UK emergency services 999 outage

The network and its back-up system were compromised over the weekend, but the cause of the problem remains unclear.

By Claudia Glover

BT is today expected to inform the government, communications regulator Ofcom and the NHS about the cause of an outage to the 999 system, which left citizens unable to use the emergency services phone line over the weekend. The three organisations have all launched inquiries to ascertain whether BT did all it could to mitigate, control and resolve the disruption.

Investigations were launched into BT following an outage of 999 emergency phone services on Sunday. (Photo by1000 words/Shutterstock)

BT provides the infrastructure for the 999 system, which suffered a UK-wide disruption on Sunday, 25 June that left citizens unable to access all three emergency services via the number. Police, fire and ambulance services had to ask the public to contact them via the non-emergency number 101 and local numbers while the issues persisted.

Despite implementing a back-up service, BT was unable to restore the emergency number until Monday.

Three enquiries launched into BT after Sunday 999 outage

BT took almost three hours to report the fault through the necessary legal channels, Viscount Camrose, a minister in the Department of Science Innovation and Technology, told the House of Lords on Monday. The issues began at 6.30am on Sunday, explained Camrose, but were not reported to the government until 9.20am.

Both the government and the NHS are looking into the fault, while UK communications regulator Ofcom opened an investigation on Wednesday to establish whether or not BT took “all necessary measures to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency organisations as part of any call services offered

Having apologised for the incident, BT is expected to provide an update on what caused it today. It has been “examining the technical aspects of what triggered Sunday’s incident”, the process of moving over to the back-up system and the “timings of communications to the emergency services, Ofcom and the government”.

Speaking in the House of Lords on Monday, Lord Hogan-Howe, who served as head of the Metropolitan Police between 2011-2017, said he believed BT’s involvement in the 999 process should end.

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Lord Hogan-Howe said the company’s role was limited to directing callers to the appropriate emergency service. “Why don’t [fire, ambulance and police] answer them together?” he asked.

“Why don’t we remove the cost that BT imposes on the whole system that appears has not worked very well on this particular occasion?”

BT’s role working with the emergency services will grow in the coming years, with its EE mobile network one of the principal suppliers for the new emergency services communication network, which is due to come online in 2029 after more than a decade of delays.

Read more: AI could replace two-thirds of civil service jobs in next 15 years

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