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KCOM fined £900,000 for emergency call failure

David Bicknell Published 08 August 2017

74 emergency calls failed after a York telephone exchange was flooded; back up routes relied on the same exchange


Ofcom has levied a £900,000 fine on telecoms operator KCOM, after uncovering what it described as “a serious weakness” in the company’s emergency call service.

The fine, which followed an investigation first signalled last October , followed after Ofcom found that KCOM, which operates the main telephone and broadband network in Kingston upon Hull, broke an important rule designed to ensure everyone can contact the emergency services at all times, which it said is crucial to public health and safety.

Ofcom said it expects telephone companies’ emergency call services to be resilient. They should ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that emergency calls can be connected at all times, even in challenging circumstances, the watchdog said.

What went wrong , Ofcom explained, was that on December 28 2015, KCOM notified Ofcom that its emergency call service for the Hull area had failed for around a four-hour period.

KCOM attributed this failure to flooding at one of BT’s telephone exchanges in York, in the wake of Storm Eva. As a result, 74 attempted calls to 999 or 112 from 34 different numbers failed to connect during this period.

Ofcom’s investigation found that all emergency calls from customers in the Hull area relied on the flooded telephone exchange in York, which was a single point of failure in KCOM’s emergency-call routing.

To meet Ofcom rules, Ofcom said, KCOM should have been able automatically to divert emergency calls via back-up routes. Its investigation found that KCOM did have back-up routes in place, but it later became clear that these also relied on the flooded telephone exchange in York.

Ofcom said that to resolve the incident and address the weakness in its emergency call routing, KCOM created an alternative route to carry emergency call traffic that bypassed the flooded telephone exchange in York. It did so within two hours of identifying the problem.

The regulator said it found that KCOM had breached the requirement to ensure uninterrupted access to the emergency services, and so imposed a penalty of £900,000. It said the fine reflects the seriousness of this breach, and its impact on public health and safety. The fine, which must be paid to Ofcom within 20 working days, will be passed on to the Treasury.

Ofcom said it expects all providers to continue to satisfy themselves that their networks have no avoidable single points of failure in the routing of emergency call traffic.

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