999 or 112 - Which is Best?

999 or 112 - Which is Best?

There seems to be confusion in outdoor circles about whether calling 112 is better than 999 in an emergency (image courtesy of Original Outdoors)

999 or 112 - Which is Best? 

999 or 112 - Which is Best?

In Summary

999 & 112 are exactly the same in the UK. Use either one, and you will get the same service, with the same location details passed to emergency services irrespective of which one you dial. It is a myth that 112 is better than 999. Simples!

Have you registered for Emergency SMS? read about full range of emergency communication methods, or start at the top of the advice & info section of this site for 300 pages of information about how to be safer in the hills & mountains of the UK. Here's a quick start guide.

Also make sure that your phone does not get soggy when it rains, and won't work. If you need to call for help, how will you do that with a waterlogged phone? Click here to keep your phone dry for a fiver.

But, if you want to know a bit more about the 112 myth, read on.

Confusion Reigns

Whenever I speak with people about calling for help in the mountains, there is a belief that dialling 112 is better than 999, as the theory was that 112 sends location information to emergency services. When I first heard that theory, I was puzzled, and whilst the idea was not dismissed, it didn't sound right that 999 had become inferior when it's the number that we all know to call for help. Many people, in positions of "outdoor authority" quoted the same line. So I did some research...

I imagine that the confusion can in part be directed to a video on YouTube by 'MicroNavigation', which is entitled "Help me" The secrets of using 112 on a mobile phone in an emergency or accident. The video has received 153,000 views (Oct 2014), so there are a fair few people aware of it. However, some of the information contained within the video is mis-leading, as it only talks about 112 and leaves out the subject of 999 completely. I have deliberately not linked to the video elsewhere on the site, or on this page, as it's not only misleading, some of the information is incorrect, although well meant.

   (Still image of video - it will not play)

The Bottom Line

In the UK, 999 and 112 do the same thing, namely connect you to the emergency services. Neither number has priority over the other, and neither number provides location information better than the other. They are the same.

Continue using 999 in the UK and you will have no issue. 

The incorrect information in the above video relates to EmergencySMS. Click here to skip down the page to that section (read to the bottom if you skip).

Ofcom issued a consultation paper in 2013 on the subject of location information, and how it could be enhanced further in the future. Within the paper there is clear reference to the fact that 999 and 112 are the same. Take a read of sections 2.3 & 2.4 of the consultation document.

About 999

As a reminder, in 2012 the well know 999 service celebrated its 75 years service to the UK, and it was the world's first single emergency number. It continues to be the best known number for emergency services within the UK. We all get taught 999 when we're kids.

Why Introduce 112?

112 is the pan European standard number for contacting the emergency services and was introduced to the UK over 15 years ago, to run in parallel with 999. At the time of introduction it was recognised that member states of the EU could also keep their existing emergency services number, as any permanent change would likely lead to some people being unable to call for help as they may not know the 'new' number. 

A BBC news article published in 2012 states that many people are unaware of 112 use in Eurpoe, with the logical extension that even fewer people know that it works in the UK. (The latter being my assumption, not fact.)

Statements in the Video

I've taken each main point within the video and given an explanation about whether mis-leading or factually incorrect. Statements from the video are in green and italics.

When you need the police, ambulance, fire brigade, mountain rescue or coast guard, dial 112
  • 999 works exactly the same way
  • to raise mountain rescue, you must first ask for police

112 is a special number as it is pre-programmed into every SIM card
  • Mobile phones in the UK are indeed programmed with the emergency numbers of 112, but they are also programmed with 999. Some even hold 911 (USA/Canada) and 08 (Saudi Arabia & a few other countries)

112 initiates a call in a completely different way to normal calls you make
  • Calls to 112 are initiated in exactly the same way as 999 calls in the UK
  • When received by the network, 999/112 calls do receive priority over other calls
  • 112 calls do not have priority over 999 calls

If no signal on home network, 112 will hunt for a signal on any network
  • In the UK since 2009, absence of a signal on the phone's home network will mean that it may be possible to obtain a signal on another network, irrespective of whether dialled on 112 or 999
  • If a signal on another network is available, this is referred to as being camped-on, but is not the same as roaming - such as when abroad. You may be able to place a 999/112 call on that network
  • A phone that's camped-on to another UK network for the purposes of placing a 999/112 call, cannot receive a call on that network, even if the inbound call is from emergency services

If network busy, 112 will override the busy network
  • Not sure about this one. Need to check with mobile phone network engineers, but my suspicion is that it will not end another person's call so that you can make a 999/112 call
  • The reality, from an outdoor perspective, is that there is hardly likely to be a network busy issue
  • TBC for full explanation

By dialling 112 the phone's security system can be overidden
  • This is also true for any number that's programmed into the phone's SIM card list of emergency numbers, including 999
  • Overriding the phone's security system is a standard that's part of the GSM standards for mobile manufacture, and is not specific to 112

If the phone was Pay as you Go with no credit left, you can still dial 112
  • This is true in the UK, but not necessarily true globally
  • It equally applies to 999 in the UK

Some smart phone even without SIM card, dialling 112 will connect to emergency services
  • In the UK, this statement is incorrect but hardly likely to be an issue (as it's unlikely that you would have a phone, in the outdoors, without a SIM card)
  • Since the introduction of cross-network emergency calls in 2009, calls to 999/112 from phones without a SIM card were blocked
  • A SIM-less phone may display 'Emergency Calls Only', but that's the phone's software displaying the message. The UK network will still not allow a call.
  • The mobile network will not allow you to make a call from a phone without a SIM card

112 is available in all of Europe and the USA, Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, 70+ countries worldwide. Remembering 112 means that you can get hold of the emergency services in many places worldwide
  • This is partially true but there is no single answer and the best advice is always to research the emergency services number for your foreign destination before travelling
  • 112 is [probably] the most used emergency services number
  • 112 works from mobiles in more countries than 112 will work from a landline in the same country. This is because the mobile networks cater for foreign visitors by allowing them to roam on the home country's networks, and knowing that travellers may not know the local emergency number, the foreign network may be programmed to recognise that 112/999/911 etc are emergency calls and translate the dialled number to the local emergency number. To the user, dialling 112, for example, would seem to be that 112 was the emergency number. However, do not assume that because 112 (or any emergency number) works from a mobile that it will work from a landline in that country.
  • In the UK, 911 from a mobile will also dial emergency services (this info has been confirmed by a Vodafone engineer)
  • In the USA, the only universal emergency number is 911. There are many small GSM networks (some locally owned and covering very small geographical areas), and whilst a phone may let you dial 112, there's nothing to say that all networks have been programmed to recognise that 112 should in fact be routed to 911. 
  • Check range of numbers here

If after two attempts of dialling 112 your phone has not connected, you can send a text to 112 (you have to be pre-registered)
  • True, always try to make a voice call first, and two attempts seems reasonable
  • You can only send a text from your home network. 
  • If your home network does not have a signal, but your phone shows 'signal bars' and emergency calls only or similar, you should be able to make a call on that network (this is being camped-on, as above). 
  • If you have a weak or intermittent signal on your home network that is the time that sending a text to 999/112 could be a life saver, i.e. not enough signal for a call, but a text may squeeze through.
  • You cannot send a text to 999/112 whilst camped-on another network.
  • You cannot send a text if there is no network available (mobile phones do not use satellites, even if you dial 112. I have heard it said from people who should know better)

You register by sending the work 'register' to 112
  • True, but you can send register  to 999 as well

And Also...

One Twitter follower was under the impression that a mobile phone could be located only if a call was made on 112.

Mobile phones can be located by the communication that they have with the mobile phone masts, and when 999 or 112 is called, the phone's position, according to the phone network, is sent to the emergency services. The process by which this is done is called triangulation, and the more masts available, the more accurate the calculated position.

A phone does not have to be active in a voice call for triangulation to take place, it just has to be switched on and within range of two or more mobile phone masts. However, to triangulate a phone without it being active on an emergency call would require police authorisation.

Thus, whether 999 or 112 was dialled, or just a phone switched on and within range of a couple of masts, triangulation should be possible if the police believed that there is an imminent threat to life & limb.


  • 999 and 112 are the same in the UK
  • When you go abroad, check the numbers used for local emergency services and do not assume that 112 will work. Even if 112 works from a mobile, it may not work from a landline

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