History of the Emergency Response Centre Agency

Emergency operations are as old as organised human habitation in Finland, as there has always been a need for a system to warn residents of impending danger, such as an enemy or fire. In the 1800s, as cities were developing, the police began to organise their operations into police departments. At the same time, volunteer fire brigades were also established in the cities. The volunteer fire brigades evolved into fire brigades when city bylaws made them mandatory.

The world’s first emergency number was introduced in London already in 1937. After the mid-1900s, emergency numbers became more common elsewhere in Europe as well, and numbers began to require separate centres for responding to the calls.  Prior to that, the police and fire brigade could only be contacted by telephone through a switchboard operator employed by the Post Office and by asking them to connect the emergency call to the relevant authority.

In Finland, the first emergency response centres were commissioned in 1976. The emergency response centres gradually became regional centres, and in addition to fire alarms, they also started to handle tasks requiring ambulance services. At that time, alerting the police was still considered part of the operations of police departments, and later, the handling of these tasks began to focus on the police’s designated emergency number 10022.

The reason for the choice of the number 112 was its clarity and ease of use. By using the numbers at the beginning of the number menu, the selection is accelerated, and using two different numbers instead of one significantly reduces error calls. The three-digit series is also easy to remember.

In 1982, Finland introduced the national emergency number 000, which was connected to the regional emergency response centres. At that time, tasks were relayed to ambulance services and the fire and rescue authorities.

In 1991, the European Union introduced the common emergency number 112, and Finland was among the first to ratify it in 1993. The number 112 was originally selected as the emergency number as early as 1972. Its purpose was to supplement national emergency numbers and make emergency services available through one and the same number in all EU Member States.

Emergency response centre operations take shape in the 1990s

In order to reform emergency response operations, Finland adopted the Act on Emergency Response Centre Operations in 1993. Its purpose was to gain experience on whether it is expedient and economical to combine the emergency response centre operations of rescue services, emergency medical services, social services and the police on a permanent basis.

Three years later, an experiment was launched in which the emergency response centre model was piloted with four pilot emergency response centres. During the experiment and based on the experiences gained from it, a new act on Emergency Response Centres was prepared, entering into force in 2001. At the same time, emergency response centre operations became State-run, and the municipal regional emergency response centres were abolished. The Emergency Response Centre Agency had been created.

The new government agency started its operations on 1 January 2001, and the agency combined the Central Finland Emergency Response Centre in Jyväskylä, the North Karelia Emergency Response Centre in Joensuu, the Salo Region Emergency Response Centre in Salo and the Jokilaakso Emergency Response Centre in Ylivieska that were operating previously as pilot centres. In 2005, there were already 15 emergency response centres operating across Finland. The central administration operated in Helsinki until 2003, when the Ministry of the Interior decided to locate the so-called Emergency Response Centre Agency in Pori.

The current multi-authority model in Finland is unique in the world. The Emergency Response Centre Agency carries out risk assessments based on the emergency calls and alerts the various authorities to the scene in emergencies from a single emergency number. Tasks from 112 are forwarded to rescue services, the police, emergency medical services, social services and the Finnish Border Guard.

Coming to the 2010s, emergency response centre operations were strongly reformed, and the emergency response centres were merged so that in 2015 there were six emergency response centres, and the goal was to have an operation network covering the whole of Finland (excl. the Åland Islands). The current Emergency Response Centres are located in Kerava, Kuopio, Pori, Vaasa, Oulu and Turku.

In 2019, the nationwide emergency response centre information system, called ERICA, used by all parties involved in the activities of the Emergency Response Centre Agency was introduced. The introduction of the new emergency response centre information system has made it possible to deploy a networked operating model in emergency response centre operations in which any emergency response centre can respond to calls from anywhere in Finland. This will ensure equal and high-quality emergency response centre services throughout Finland.