• (nodebb)

    The frist relevant part of the story is that India cannot be called. The end.

  • Dave (unregistered) in reply to nerd4sale

    Yup, the wtf is solely the 911 rule in the phone system.

  • (nodebb)

    Surely to dial an international number from the US you have to use a 0 prefix. So you'd dial 011 from a directly connected phone or 9011 from a PBX phone?

  • David Jackson (unregistered) in reply to RobyMcAndrew

    Indeed so I'd have thought. The code for India is +91, so you would dial 901191<number> from the USA presumably.

  • Andrew (unregistered) in reply to RobyMcAndrew

    Suspicion: phone numbers are stored as an integer type. We don't need your stinking leading zeros!

  • Mike (unregistered)

    In Italy emergency numbers all begin with 11. Historically long distance prefix all begins with 0 and international prefix was 00. So logically most PBX used 0 to dial outside. Local numbers were all beginning with 2....9. So far so good. to dial an Italian number from abrad you did +39 and long distance call prefix minus 0.

    You have a local number in say, Turin , 234 5678 , to call from Milan you dialled 011 234 5678, where the long distance code was 011. from abroad you had to dial +39 11 234 5678.

    Enter the 1G cellphones, they initially got some long distance codes, like 0336 0337. First 2G numbers got 0335 and 0338. But due to the big success, a solution to have more numbers had to be found.

    So cellphone lost the first 0 so a cellphone that was 0338 012 3456 become 338 012 3456. its international code become +39 338 012 3456. A land line number from abroad become +39 011 234 5678.

    Guess what happened in Turin the next days after the switch over? People using a pabx dialled 0 112 34 5678 and called the emergency number, and some people, even from normal phones got confused and dialed 11 as a prefix. An human DDoS attack.

  • RLB (unregistered) in reply to Dave

    Not solely. The other concerns raised in the article are also valid - spam storm on the fax line, anyone? But the 911 rule is the operant wtf for this particular problem.

  • (nodebb) in reply to RobyMcAndrew

    You'd actually have to dial 011 91 <insert Indian number> to call from the US to India. 011 is the international prefix from the US and 91 is India's country code (no country code starts with 11).

  • Bear Man (unregistered) in reply to Dave

    The 911 rule is set in place to make sure that the emergency number is reached even within a complex PBX system. For instance, in Denmark (and I believe the rest of the EU) you can use most emergency numbers from around the world, mainly because people in panic try to type the numbers they know by heart... As a side question, when in a foreign country, do you memorize the local emergency numbers when arriving, just in case?

  • Lost (unregistered)

    The 911 (or 112 for us europeans) rule is actually mandatory here.

  • David Jackson (unregistered) in reply to Bear Man

    Errr… yes of course. It's part of the standard research you do on any visit to another country,

  • Alchemist (unregistered) in reply to Bear Man

    If you're in India and you dial 911, are you routed to a call center in the US???? (One of the great existential questions...)

  • (nodebb)

    India's country code is 91, not 11.

  • Black Mantha (unregistered) in reply to navmed

    Yeah. The code for New Dehli is 11 though, so that's probably what they meant.

  • (nodebb)

    TRWTF is that this is real. We got a new VOIP system last year. There are over 1,200 people here, and we do business in every country since we are Science-related.

    We just had our phone system changed so that instead of dialing "9" for external numbers we now dial "3." The reason, hehehe, was that a lot of people were dialing "911" because we have an override. With the previous system, we had to dial "9911" for emergencies.

    I'm not sure how many calls get legitimately placed to India, but since we have to dial "1" for any numbers outside our area code and the delis and pizza places in town are in a different area code, I'm willing to bet the Fat Finger of Fudging Up manages to stick an extra "1" in there often enough while ordering lunch that this is a problem.

  • (nodebb) in reply to Bear Man

    As a side question, when in a foreign country, do you memorize the local emergency numbers when arriving, just in case?

    No. I just dial 112 on my GSM-compatible mobile phone and the local phone provider routes it to the local emergency services.

  • (nodebb)

    Anybody remember the early FAX machines with a drum and special paper?

    I do. Had to deal with them (and a teletype) in the military. Lot's of fun. They tied up our phone line and the paper often had lots of problems. I think they were analog - but that was before I understood the difference.

  • eric bloedow (unregistered)

    reminds me of an old story where someone trying to use a Dial-up modem accidentally called 911 several times...

  • Adrian (unregistered)

    My company experience a very similar situation. Some of the faxes were on the internal corporate switch and some were connected directly to outside lines. One of the faxes in our building was on an outside line, but its number ended in 9911. People knew that you could call (or fax) internal numbers just by dialing the last four digits. Someone in another building tried to send a fax to our building, and assumed our fax was on an internal line. Of course, their fax machine was on an internal line, so they just directed their fax to call 9911 (on a Friday night). The first 9 connected to an outside line, and then the 911 called the emergency dispatcher. Since the emergency dispatcher doesn't respond with a fax tone, the sending fax hung up. And tried again. And again. And again. By Monday morning, the fines levied against the company were reportedly quite high.

  • We want our Faxes back (unregistered)

    A to B: Here is my fax B to A: I am out of paper A to B: I am out of paper B to A: I am out of paper A to B: I am out of paper ... And they happily ping-ponged ever after.

  • ZB (unregistered)

    TRWTF is that PBX systems use a digit instead of star or pound to dial an external number.

  • DCL (unregistered) in reply to ZB

    I suspect that can be traced back to rotary phones that didn't have '*' or '#', only 0-9.

  • Anon (unregistered) in reply to ZB


  • Miles Archer (unregistered)

    We had the exact thing happen back in the days of faxes. Someone forgot the 011 prefix when sending a fax to India and the police showed up. The fax machine kept retrying until someone figured it out and cancelled the job.

  • Brian Boorman (google) in reply to Khudzlin

    I think you assume the caller ID (which is where the callback number was taken from) correctly placed the 0 before the 11. Even casual readers of this site know that such an assumption is dangerous to make.

  • (nodebb) in reply to Developer_Dude

    Anybody remember the early FAX machines with a drum and special paper?

    No, because early fax machines were operational in the 1860s, and there aren't many people who remember them.


  • zorkon ii (unregistered)

    If I remember correctly from PBX school, 911, 9911, 1911, 91911 all had to call local 911, either by law or some code enforcement code. Curiously, I help maintain the city PD PBX, we ARE 911! (Just up one floor.) (Separate phone system for the 911 receipt, but not outgoing.)

  • zorkon ii (unregistered)

    Oh, there was a drum and special paper, certainly into the 1960's.

  • Decius (unregistered)

    So anyone with the ability to spoof caller ID can generate a fax from your machine to any number it chooses? I see no way that could be misused.

  • (nodebb)

    Applying the exception to computers isn't necessarily a bad idea. "Alexa, the building is on fire, could you call 911 for me?" "Sure thing, Boss. Dialling Nine, One, One, ..."

  • Dave (unregistered) in reply to Bear Man

    I understand the idea behind what you're saying, but the problem it purports to solve doesn't exist. If someone picks up the phone in a panic to call the emergency services,they might forget to dial for an outside line - but then they'll realise why the call isn't connecting and try again with the appropriate prefix.

  • Little Bobby Tables (unregistered)

    So let me get this straight: TRWTF is a country using 911 as an emergency number?

  • WTFGuy (unregistered)

    @ZB: You forget your history and the problem of backward compatibility.

    "Dial 9 for outside line" started with the first automated (i.e. relay-driven, not human-driven) PBXs. This was the 1950s. When phones had round dials that counted up to 10. The first pushbutton phones with * & # were 10 years in the future. And even then, pushbuttons had slow penetration for another 30 years, especially in large government / enterprise settings where PBXs ( or later Centrex) dominated.

    It was 1988 when my US government employer pulled out all our round dial phones and the antiquated electromechanical PBX that ran them. And put in pushbutton phones connected via Centrex to the local AT&T PSTN switch.

    The phone industry is very conservative for a reason. Retraining users is hard and disruption is expensive. There's almost never a day where it makes sense to announce that tomorrow we're all going to do something significantly differently. Especially something with emergency consequences.

    In every area of IT we're all stuck with various v1.0 decisions that made sense then but don't now. Some eventually get fixed. Most don't until the entire infrastructure gets ripped out. e.g. Dialing "1" (in the US) for long distance is something that was able to simply be left out of the mobile phone dialing system from its v1.0. While still fully present in the landline dialing system. As landline usage atrophies so will dialing "1". But not before.

    Being able to simultaneously support multiple protocols and API versions over the same infrastructure is a recent gain with the advent of computers; there's still one heck of a lot of the world that isn't powered by computers. Something it's easy to forget when you're in our line of work.

  • (nodebb)

    I have been unreliably informed that you can/could dial 99 to get the emergency services over here - people in offices dialing 999 to get help instead of 9999 as instructed on the signs by the callpoints. Allegedly, this was "fixed" by getting BT to connect you on 99. Never tested this, very unreliable source.

    I know of one office that connected to their specialist non-Home Office police force if you dialed 999. If the staff wanted to contact the local force (or go direct to another service rather than via the specialist police control) they had to dial the two digit outside line prefix and 999 to connect to the BT operator as normal

  • (nodebb) in reply to Steve_The_Cynic

    We used a fax machine in the late 1970's that used drum and special paper.

    They were sometimes called 'telecopiers'.


  • Stuart (unregistered)

    In Australia, the emergency number is 000.

    The international call code? 0011. (So, for example, to call the USA, you'd dial 0011-1-...)

    The one time I tried to make an international call from work (can't remember what for now), I pressed 0 (outside line), 00 .. hang on, why is it calling emergency.. oh.

  • Mr a (unregistered)

    I worked in a company that didn't grasp the benefit of planning. They introduced a 11 prefix to speed dial office extensions. Every time anyone dialled 112..., it automatically contacted the emergency services (it's the European emergency number and can be used instead of 999 on the UK).

    How we laughed.

  • (nodebb) in reply to Black Mantha

    So the caller ID was something like "+9111xxxx" and FaxBack dutifully ignored the international prefix (which is 011 is the US, 0011 in Australia and 00 in most of the world).

    Nothing to do with PABX external line prefixes!

  • casep (unregistered)

    And that's why 0118 999 881 999 119 7253 is a good number for Emergency number

  • 🤷 (unregistered)

    And that's why 0118 999 881 999 119 7253 is a good number for Emergency number

    And it's quite easy to remember as well! sings "Oh-one-one-eight-nine-nine-nine..."

    Anyway, telephone systems are always good for fuck-ups. Luckily my fuck-up didn't call the police, but we where sending faxes to an uninvolved third party for like half a year because I forgot to tell the program to dial a "0" to be connected to an external line. However, some of the fax numbers in our system had the area code included. Area codes in my country always start with a "0". So, for some numbers it would actually dial a 0 first and then the rest of the number. Just so it happens there was a number "012345678" in the system, the number "12345678" was a valid and connected fax number in my city. So, the program dialed "0", got connected to the outside line, and then "12345678" and sent the fax to a poor, unknowing soul, who got spammed with faxes until he finally got fed up and reported the incident to us.

    To this day, this is my biggest fuck-up that I know of.

Leave a comment on “Classic WTF: Emergency Faxes”

Log In or post as a guest

Replying to comment #:

« Return to Article