The Australian government seeks to enhance the Triple Zero emergency service to bring it up to date with modern communications technology and move it beyond the existing voice-only service.
Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a government review of the national Triple Zero operator to be undertaken by the Department of Communications. The federal government established the Triple Zero service in 1961.
In 2012, the government signed Telstra to continue as the Triple Zero operator for up to 20 years, subject to a competitive tender to be issued by 23 June 2016. The review announced today is meant to inform the tender process.
“The current arrangements for the national Triple Zero operator were established when voice calls from landlines dominated the telecommunications landscape,” Turnbull said. “Now around two-thirds of calls come from mobile phones.”
“Communications technology continues to advance, presenting new and exciting opportunities to improve the existing voice arrangements as well as new ways for telecommunications users to access assistance.”
A discussion paper released by the department notes that there are now many alternative contact methods to voice that are not yet compatible with Triple Zero.
“People now communicate in a range of other ways, including by SMS, email, instant messaging, video calls and social media, and there have been reports of people trying to use social media and other communication methods to request emergency assistance,” states the review.
“It is also foreseeable that in the future medical devices, such as pacemakers or health monitors, may be able to automatically request emergency assistance on behalf of the user.”
Turnbull gave as an example the Emergency + Smartphone app for iOS and Android that can display the phone’s GPS coordinates for the caller to read out to the emergency operator.
The review will focus on the Commonwealth-regulated Triple Zero operators and Commonwealth regulation related to the emergency call service. The government will work with state and territory emergency service organisations responsible for handling emergency calls transferred from the national operator, Turnbull said.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network welcomed the review.
“ACCAN looks forward to participating in the Government’s triple zero consultation and intends to highlight the continuing importance of emergency services for all consumers,” said ACCAN deputy CEO Narelle Clark.
“Australians are using technology differently to when the service was first established. It’s a good time to review whether triple zero can integrate new technology effectively and ensure greater access and safety for all Australians.”