Letters from the Atlantic: 112 – Emergency, Emergency!
Do you know how to contact emergency services, such as asking for medical assistance, ambulance, police or fire services? If you are in the UK, most people will know that when you dial 999 you will receive prompt and efficient attention to whatever crisis that you find yourself in. What about when you are overseas on holiday, or maybe living in another country as an expat?
I was surprised to learn that there are many holidaymakers and expats living in Spain, the Canary Islands and other parts of Europe who do not know how to contact the relevant emergency services. Services equivalent to the UK’s 999 service exist in all European countries, which can be easily accessed by dialling 112. In Spain and the Canary Islands, for instance, assistance is offered in English, Spanish, German, Italian and French, so there is no need to worry about language barriers. This 112 Emergency Service is available to everyone 24 hours a day, and for 365 days a year, free of charge from any fixed telephone line or mobile, and without the need for any dialling codes.
Recently, I visited one of the two 112 coordinating centres for the Canary Islands in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which opened in 1998, becoming part of the European System for Emergency Response. This centre is a public service, with similar centres operating in each of Spain’s provinces. In the Canary Islands, many of its emergency services are water-related accidents, such as accidents at sea or at the beaches, as well as the usual range of medical, police and fire incidents.
In the operations room, I saw calls being received, and information being collected by a co-ordinator of services and efficiently categorised before being referred to one of the specialist teams based in the centre. In the case of a health emergency, a doctor on duty at the centre answers the call, assesses the situation before responding with an ambulance, helicopter or plane to deal with the emergency. Security and fire emergencies are dealt with in a similar manner. In addition, the centre is able to give support to women suffering from domestic violence, who are given immediate advice and support.
Of course, this support is a two-way process, so that if you are involved in an incident that requires help from the emergency services, it is important that all the necessary questions are answered correctly. It is vital to give clear and accurate information at this stage in order to receive the best possible support.
For holidaymakers and residents living in the Canary Islands, there is a recent new addition to the service, which is unique to the Canary Islands, and a few other locations. This is a service called FRESS, which is the Next Generation Emergency Response, and is available as a free App that can be downloaded for most mobile phones. This exciting innovation allows those facing an emergency to simply press a button to activate FRESS on their phone and receive immediate and enhanced support from the 112 response team. FRESS connects by voice, instant text message or video communication, and automatically sends your location, name, age, phone number and previously recorded medical details to the centre, as well as translating the emergency call into the required language.
Although, currently, FRESS is only operating on a trial basis in some areas of Poland, Italy, the US, Mexico, the Philippines and Malaysia, it is now fully operational in the Canary Islands, which has provided an ideal location for such a service to be thoroughly tested. It was fascinating to learn of the possibilities that this life saving app could give. It has the potential to operate worldwide, doing away with the need to remember a whole host of emergency numbers that other countries use, such as 999, 112, 911 and 066. As it develops, FRESS will offer huge safety benefits to travellers, holidaymakers and expats worldwide.
I was impressed to witness the skills, dedication and support given by the team on duty during my visit. It is a service that I guess we rarely think about until we need it. For holidaymakers and expats, it is important to remember that support is given in five languages, including English. It is good to know that it is there for us all in an emergency.
Barrie Mahoney was a head teacher and school inspector in the UK, as well as a reporter in Spain, before moving to the Canary Islands to launch and edit a new English language newspaper. He enjoys life in the sun as a columnist and author, and continues to write a series of popular novels, books for expats, as well as designing mobile apps and websites to promote the Canary Islands.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle, iBooks and Google Play editions.
iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.