Make emergency helpline service more efficient
What's the point of having a national emergency helpline if citizens don't have help coming their way on time? According to a report published by this daily, the helpline 999—which allows citizens in trouble to call and ask for help from police, fire service or ambulance service providers in case of any crime, accident or other emergencies—responds to distress calls at a much slower pace than that of the developed countries. While the average response time of the 999 unit in Bangladesh is about 20 minutes, it is only seven minutes in countries such as the US, the UK, and Japan. Many service-seekers even alleged that they had to wait for hours after calling the helpline.
While the helpline unit, which started its operation in December 2017, initially received 8,000 to 12,000 calls every day, now there are around 30,000 calls. And while the unit is expected to have the capacity to attend to at least 500 calls at a time, it can only take 100 calls. This is because it doesn't have sufficient manpower, or the technological/logistical support necessary to cater to the increased number of service-seekers.
The unit, importantly, doesn't have the automatic caller identification and location system, which can locate a caller's exact address instantly and significantly cut down the response time. This system, crucial for any emergency helpline, hasn't been installed even after a decision by the authorities to do so in August 2019. As a result, too much time is lost in trying to identify the locations of service seekers as the callers themselves have to provide all the information that service providers need before the latter can send a team to help them.
Also, everything—from pinpointing their locations to communicating with the various service providers to finally assigning a team to rescue or help them—is currently done manually, which is a time-consuming process. This is another example of the inefficiency of the system.
The authorities must upgrade it according to international standards. In order for the helpline to work efficiently, greater coordination among all the ministries and departments concerned is needed, because getting the required information from all is key to making the system work. In addition, the manpower crisis identified by the relevant officials must be addressed on a priority basis if the people are to get any service from the helpline. Awareness must also be raised about the importance of such an emergency service so that no one abuses the system or the service providers through blank or prank calls. These measures and reforms are vital for the system to do its work.