People in India will soon have to dial just a single-number ‘112’ for help during emergency situations such as availing services of police, ambulance and the fire department. ‘112’ will be the national emergency number in India, similar to the ‘911’ in the US and ‘999’ in the UK. The inter-ministerial Telecom Commission has given a go-ahead to the measure. The number ‘112’ was chosen due to a variety of reasons. ‘100’, which is one of the widely known numbers for emergency, was not recommended as it is associated with police and several sections of society, especially women and children, may not wish to dial it.

The roll-out of 112 may see a gradual phase out of existing emergency numbers like 100 (police), 101 (fire services), 102 (ambulance) and 108 (disaster management), though they will continue to be in operation for at least a period of one year, depending upon the awareness about the new facility. The proposal to have a single number for various emergency services, approved by the inter-ministerial panel Telecom Commission, would be similar to the ‘911’ all-in-one emergency service in USA.

In India, different emergency communication and response systems are in place – Police (100), Fire Brigade (101), Ambulance (102) and Emergency Disaster Management (108). Also, a number of states have notified various helpline numbers for assistance to special categories of citizens, like Women in Distress – 181 (Delhi), Missing Children and Women – 1094 (Delhi), Crime Against Women – 1096 (Delhi), Police Headquarter Helpline – 1090 (Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) and so on.

A person in distress will need to call ‘112’, which will direct the call to concerned departments immediately for help. The service will also be accessible even through those SIMs and landlines whose outgoing call facility has been stopped or temporarily suspended. A user will be able to make communication even through SMS and the system will learn about the location of the caller that will be shared with the nearest help centre.

Most developed countries have put in place an Integrated Emergency Communication & Response System (IECRS) under which emergency services are accessed nation-wide through a single number. While USA and Canada have 911, the UK has 999, New Zealand has 111 and Australia has 000. In many countries across Europe, 112 is the primary number to deal with emergencies.
Both GSM and CDMA phones have in-built recognition of emergency numbers 112 and 911. The facility of emergency calling encompasses calling even in cases where the phone is locked with a password or where there is no balance amount left for making outgoing calls. Calls will be possible even if the phone is outside the coverage area of the subscribed network but is receiving a signal of any other mobile operator, or the phone is without a valid subscription.
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Also, it had suggested the inclusion of a host of services which in the initial phase will include calls meant for police, fire, ambulance, helpline for women, senior citizens and children. Other services may be integrated progressively and in a phased manner. To make the service successful and highly efficient, calls to the emergency number will be prioritized in mobile networks while SMS-based access will also be permitted.

More importantly, the location information and details of the caller will need to be made available to the agencies taking the emergency calls so that swift help can be provided. Analysts say that implementation of the measure can be a challenge as many of the areas, especially policing, is a state subject. Also, putting in place an adequate infrastructure like ambulances and requisite number of police personnel to deal with emergency situations at a quick pace, can be an infrastructure nightmare.

The idea of having a single number for all emergencies has been in the works for a long time, though the measure will require active participation and enabling provisions from state governments if it needs to be turned into a success through widespread adoption. The service will be operated by a call centre like facility, which will have representatives speaking in Hindi, English and the local language.