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999 to get non-emergency back-up

101 picked for memorability

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The UK Government is setting up a new single non-emergency phone number to help relieve some of the pressure on the 999 service.

Around seven in ten calls to the 999 service are not deemed to be emergencies, thus clogging up the system and making it harder for staff to handle urgent calls. Which is why the government wants a new Single Non-Emergency Number (SNEN).

The new SNEN service - 101 - will be used for people to report matters such as vandalism, graffiti, and noisy neighbours. 101 is due to be rolled out later this year before being available throughout England and Wales by 2008. The service will cost 10p per call from landlines and mobiles.

Announcing the new service today, Home Office Minister Hazel Blears said that 101 would "operate around-the-clock and put callers directly in touch with specially trained operators for information and advice on non-emergency matters".

"Vandalism, graffiti, dumped rubbish, fly-tipping, abandoned cars, relentless noise and nuisance neighbours all have a long-lasting and corrosive effect on the quality of people's lives," she said.

"The SNEN represents significant new investment to strengthen community engagement and tackle the anti-social behaviour that blights local communities. This will mean that 999 services can function more effectively and provide a faster response to emergency incidents," she said.

Cable & Wireless (C&W) has been chosen as the single supplier for the 101 service. Already one of three suppliers of the 999 service (along with BT and Kingston Communications) the multi-million pound five year contract will see C&W provide all the call routing and traffic management for the new 101 service.

The Home Office has been exploring the creation of a SNEN since 2001. Last October, communications regulator Ofcom kicked off a consultation about the SNEN including what the number should be. So how exactly did the boffins at Ofcom come up with "101" and not some other combination?

According to today's announcement, part of the decision is based on "memorability, [the] reduced risk of mis-dials and ease of keyboard navigation"

"It has been established that a number's digit pattern helps determine whether it is the best choice to meet these criteria," said Ofcom in a report.

"Repetition of digits can help make a number memorable but can also increase the chance of misdialling as confusion over the number of times a digit has been dialled can occur. Ergonomic advisers have indicated that to avoid misdials, the same digit should not be repeated consecutively. Naturally, the relevance of this may vary in accordance with the target audience for a number, but in this case it would suggest that a '11X' numbers should be avoided. On the other hand, repetition of non-consecutive numbers could aid memorability as the digits form a pattern. On this basis it was established that the number '101' would be memorable and not easy to misdial."

So now you know. ®

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