The 999: Its an emergency campaign

Every year our volunteers organise thousands of group led walks, the vast majority of which occur without incident. But When an accident occurs it’s vital that the emergency services can find the person in trouble as quickly as possible.

Throughout the spring of 2012, we received worrying reports from our walk leaders and members of the public that when an accident occurred on a walk they had been unable to effectively communicate their location to the emergency services because Ambulance Trusts could not understand or process grid references.

Nearly 50 incidents were reported to us over a period of 18 months where someone had suffered an incident, called 999 and requested an ambulance. After giving a grid reference as their location, control room staff had requested a postcode instead.

When walkers were unable to supply a postcode, the location usually had to be narrowed down using local landmarks, leading to both delay and confusion as to where the incident took place.

Launching the campaign

We soon discovered that each Ambulance Trust operated its own set of procedures, meaning one Trust could react to a situation differently to another. We found that Trusts had different software packages - some of which could not handle grid references - and different training for staff as a result.

In launching the 999: It’s an emergency campaign, we asked walkers to help us persuade the Department of Health to ensure all Ambulance Trusts’ software could handle grid references and that control room staff were adequately trained.

The campaign aimed to initiate a change in procedure so emergency services could be swiftly deployed when walkers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, provided a grid reference as the location of incident.

What we achieved

Over 500 people supported the campaign by emailing the Department of Health and various outdoor organisations, including CTC, the national cycling charity, the Long Distance Walkers Association and the British Caving Association also backed the campaign and ran articles promoting it.

We contacted all the Ambulance Trusts in England and met with two of the Trusts’ Chief Executives, one on which was responsible for control room staff training. As a result many Trusts agreed to update their training and two Trusts also updated their software to accept grid references.

Whilst we’re saddened to hear that some incidents are still occurring where grid references are not accepted, we’re certain the campaign raised awareness amongst walkers and other outdoor users of the potential problem.

We continue to forward related incidents directly to the Ambulance Trust responsible and have been assured they will do all they can to prevent problems occurring in the future.