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999 agents across the UK handled a call every three seconds during Covid-19 peak

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BT’s 999 key workers in Northern Ireland handled more than 6.9 million calls in the past year, it was revealed today.

The company released the latest 999 call handling volumes for its centre in Northern Ireland – with agents handling over 19,000 calls every day – as BT joins the emergency services to mark this year’s 999 Day [9 September], an annual celebration of the work of emergency services across the UK.

BT’s 999 agents are the calm and confident voice answering every 999 call. Six BT call centres handle all the UK’s 999 calls in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, passing calls to the relevant emergency service.

The number of 999 calls handled by BT has increased significantly in recent years, jumping from around 25 million calls a year in 2000, to over 33 million calls in the last year – with nearly one in every four calls answered in Northern Ireland. When the UK entered into lockdown in March, BT 999 call advisors were given key worker status and put the needs of the public first to fulfil their critical role in answering 999 calls.

Nationally, during the Covid-19 peak, BT’s 999 call handlers were responding to unprecedented levels of demand, answering a daily average of 105k 999 calls[2]. The busiest periods saw 999 agents handling a call every three seconds. To meet this demand, BT trained an additional 100 staff to support with answering calls, including a number of volunteers who put themselves forward to help out.

Colin Donaldson, a local BT employee who volunteered to work in the 999 team during the Covid-19 peak, said: “It was an honour to be trusted to carry out such an important role during a nationwide pandemic and I am very proud to have helped to support the 999 service at a crucial time.

“The Emergency Services across Northern Ireland are unsung heroes who deliver vital work I am pleased that I have been able to support them through the call handling process that we provide.”

BT’s Advanced Mobile Location (AML) technology provides a critical role to the emergency services, providing the exact location of a 999 caller by sending an automatic text to the 999 call handler. The majority of mobile phones (70%) – including Android and Apple smartphones – can now detect that an emergency call is being made, with the caller’s precise GPS position being sent to the 999 service during the call and pinpointing their position to within just three metres in some cases. This plays a really important role in helping the emergency services reach incidents more quickly and save lives.

Cheryl Stewart, Contact Centre Manager of BT’s 999 centre in Northern Ireland, said: “Many people are unaware of the crucial role BT staff play in supporting our emergency services.

“Our teams answer every initial 999 call and my colleagues in Northern Ireland handled over 19,000 calls every single day last year.

“We’re proud to support our emergency services partners and join together today in celebrating the amazing work they do.”

Paul Murnaghan, Regional Director for BT’s Enterprise business In Northern Ireland, added: “At BT we’re proud to play a critical role in supporting the outstanding work of the emergency services. During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic our 999 call advisors faced a significant increase in calls, and have gone above and beyond to provide a critical role to the Northern Ireland public.

“Our AML Technology can now detect that an emergency call is being made, and sends the caller’s precise GPS position as close as three metres in some cases, to the 999 service during the call.

“This could mean, for example, being able to tell which side of the motorway the call has come from, helping an ambulance get to a scene ten minutes earlier, which is potentially life-saving. Our 999 call advisors and the emergency services do phenomenal work and we’re delighted to be celebrating them on Emergency Services Day.”

BT plays a critical role supporting the emergency services – from its 999 call centres, building the Emergency Services Network (ESN), to BT’s emergency service volunteers working across the UK and globally.

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