A real-life horrific experience of Hannah Foster, an aspiring medical student, made the headlines in 2003 after she was abducted by a stranger, brutally raped and murdered. The story as it unfolds says that Hannah went for a night out with her friends in Southampton on 13th March 2003 and was abducted by an Asian man named Maninder Singh Kohli on the next day. She was brutally raped and murdered. Her body was discovered in a ditch.
As per investigation reports, she was bundled into the rear of a delivery vehicle when she frantically tried to connect to the “Silent Solutions” of 999. The voice clip that was played before the jury revealed that Hannah was smart enough to surreptitiously communicate with the “Silent Solutions”, a call handling system which deals with silent calls made to 999, but as she was unable to follow instructions, the call was transferred to the Scotland Yard police. They tried to communicate with her but received no response, the call had to be disconnected. Hannah could have survived if only the operators could have understood the severity of the call and help could be reached in proper time.
BT receives 30 million calls a year to 999 or 112 (the European emergency Services for all European countries). Calls made to these numbers are usually made by people to avail emergency services such as police, fire or ambulance. However, there are several millions of calls that do not follow this pattern and the number is dialled, but no one speaks. Hannah’s case was similar. According to the code of practice, in the “overwhelming majority of cases”, these calls are generated by customer misdials. But it is also acknowledged that there is always a possibility of it being a genuine caller who could not speak. It is also a fact that a sizable portion of accidental calls to 999/112 originate from mobile phones.
In 2001, the Metropolitan Police introduced a countrywide system called “Silent Solutions” for dealing with an increasing number of silent calls in 999. When a call is made, operators from police forces around the UK attempt to obtain a response by asking a series of questions. But when nothing apart from general noise can be heard, and there is no speech, it is thought there is a “negligible chance” of the call being genuine. The operator can then end the call. Where there is no response but there are background voices, the code of practice says the operator cannot decide whether an Emergency Authority request is needed from the police.
In cases such as these, the call is then connected to an automated police voice response system at the Met’s Central Communication Command, which asks the caller to press five twice if help is required. If 5-5 is pressed, an immediate connection with the police is made. And in many cases where suspicious noises are heard, the operator can override all these procedures and simply connect the call directly to a police emergency authority control room. It was only after Hannah’s 999 calls were forensically examined during the subsequent investigation when the audio had been expertly enhanced that it was possible to capture the voice of her abductor and the conversation they had.
Silent calls are a very common occurrence now. Between July 2001, when the Silent Solutions System was incorporated, and September 2008, there have been more than 40 million such calls- averaging around 5.5 million a year where a sizable number of these are unintended 999 calls. Since 2004, on average each year, Silent Solutions have received about 47,000 silent calls during which the caller pressed ’55’ and therefore indicated they needed an emergency service, which means that only about 0.9% of the silent calls that are being received are intentional.
Yet Hannah’s tragic case is not a one-off. In 2005 Farah Noor Adams was raped and murdered in Glasgow. She had made a number of silent calls when she spotted she was being stalked by her eventual killer. But they too were cut off by operators when she failed to respond.
It has been 15 years since Hannah Foster was murdered, technology has evolved, and now we have the emergency alert device that can save a life in critical situations. Technology advancements on the internet have enabled us to track the exact location of the distressed. Learning from the Hannah Foster case, Doctor Alert support team has been specially trained to handle such silent call incidents with agility and prudence. There have been instances where the National Rescue Team had to be contacted as no response from the user’s end could be detected. On arrival at the location, the team had to break open the door and found things to be fine. There might be silent alarms, but these instances are now dealt with utmost importance and given high priority so that another innocent cry for help doesn’t go unheard as it happened with Hannah Foster.
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