Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Crisis with emergency numbers

There's a hugely important story in Gulf News this morning. The mis-use of the emergency numbers.

The paper reports that more than half a million calls were made to 999 last year - a staggering 573,471 calls. That's 1,571 a day!

The vast majority were not about emergencies, obviously.

The root cause of the problem is indicated by the examples of some of the calls given in the report.

The cause is lack of knowledge.

People from different societies around the world, some from remote rural villages, simply don't understand what the emergency numbers are for. And no-one has thought to tell them.

I had a personal example when a crane was set up blocking the car park in my building. I asked our security man to tell them to move it to a more acceptable position, which they refused. He called the police, which was actually enough to make them move it without the police coming.

I asked him which police station he'd phoned and he told me he'd called 999.

Amazed, I asked him why he'd called the emergency number. He looked bemused and told me that's the number you call if you need the police.

Examples given in the paper are people trying to get information about something - Etisalat's number, the speed limit on a particular road, taxis won't stop so what do I do and so on.

So back to my point about lack of knowledge.

There needs to be a campaign, there always was a need, to educate people about the emergency numbers, what they are, what they're for.

And what they're not for.

What I mean is not the usual half-hearted, amateur efforts we see all too often. I mean a professionally formulated campaign, using not just a few ads in a few newspapers but a fully integated campaign aimed at all segments of our society. In addition to advertisements on radio, TV and in the press it also needs an ongoing PR campaign, brochures, outdoor, notices in labour camps and so on - and in the appropriate languages.

I'm sure most companies would come to the party and not charge for something that's a vital public service campaign, so it needn't be expensive. Even if it is, the investment would be justified.

Lack of communication

Education is simply communication, and the lack of communication is a huge problem in Dubai.

Companies and departments simply don't bother to communicate. Getting clear, concise, timely information is like getting blood from a stone.

Not only is information not available, people don't know where to go to find it.

Hence the mis-use of the emergency numbers.

They are official numbers that people know. A person, not a machine, will respond so there's a human being who may be able to answer your question.

Communication is an area that needs urgent attention.

The full story is here.


Brn said...

Good point about the need for education on this point. An example: I was once told by a police officer to call 999 for something that was the very definition of a non-emergency. I have always suspected that he didn't know any other number to call.

Seabee said...

That sums it up pretty well - there's a total lack of education, of information being passed around, of communication. At all levels.

Rose in Dubai said...

nyProblem is, if you need the police and you're not anywhere near a phone book what number do you use? Its not a number I carry in my head, or on my phone for that matter (maybe I should).

Maybe another easy number for non-emergencies would be a good idea??

Anonymous said...

I called the police once (dialed 999 or 997 or similar) to report broken traffic lights (it would seem logical to call the police as I don't think anyone really keeps the RTA's number on hand) at the safa park intersection and I got screwed around by at least 10 different people on the phone-- each one said "please hold" as they handed me off to another person who didn't know what to do.

One has to wonder how they manage in time-critical emergencies.

Seabee said...

Rose I have a card in my wallet, credit card size, that has eight police station numbers, four hospital numbers, the three emergency numbers plus Dubai Municipality. A fantastic card - I can't remember now where I got it but they should be everywhere for people to pick up.

I think I must post about it...

i*maginate said...

Interesting post and comments...I have nothing new to add, save for your point about communication being key.

I think it's pretty obvious this is a matter of urgency, but I don't see the situation improving any time soon, primarily due to the number of nationalities and varying levels of education amongst the population: hence the inconsistencies in the standard of communication.