We are in good hands!
The British Consul in Tenerife recently organised a very useful trip for some of English language journalists to the 112 Emergency Call Centre in Santa Cruz, and I have to say a more useful few hours I have rarely spent.
Yes, we all do know that there have been occasions when the police may not have responded well to an emergency call, or an ambulance took too long to arrive on the scene, but having met the people who take your calls and dispatch and dispense aid and advice, I really believe we are in safe hands. And for every bad news story there are so many good news stories and lives saved that are never heard about.
The centre is run with a rare combination of top level efficiency and immense humanity. When a call come, and they deal with thousands and very few pranks, it goes first to a dedicated team of men and women who will take the basic information – who you are, where you are, and why you are calling….as they are talking to you they are already filing the details into a central computer and performing a type of ‘triage’ assessing the urgency and to whom they may need to pass the call.
And what’s more, there is always someone on call who speaks English, French, Italian and German as well, or course, as Spanish. Calls can be made from any phone (land line, call box, mobiles without credit) and the calls are free.
The operator’s call filing means your details are now in a central computer system and the nature of the call (fire, accident, medical emergency, etc) is queued in the system and displayed on a series of large screens around central control. There is an overall supervisor who is keeping an eye on the details at all times. Given the automatic protocols in place, if your call is a medical emergency the operator has probably already dispatched an ambulance and passed you directly to the medical team, or a fire brigade or rescue boat, depending on the emergency.
There is always a doctor on hand to talk to you, advise you and take you through any medical procedures. During the visit we heard of a life-saving call whereby the onsite doctor, over the phone, talked a father through reviving a young baby who had stopped breathing. Managing to calm down a hysterical parent and coach them into saving the life of their infant is no mean feat, and in this case the child was breathing by the time the ambulance had arrived.
The centre’s supervisor is also taking split-second decisions that could prove lifesaving. For instance he or she will decide very quickly whether they need to call out the ambulance, fire brigade or helicopter. This will be based on the nature and location of the emergency as well as other salient factors (cost is not considered a salient factor!). All in all the centre works at maximum speed to ensure that the right help is dispatched to the correct location in as short at time as possible. All the information and subsequent activity is logged as well. The centre also has extra personnel on call in the case of extra demand on the system, and with two offices running, one in each Canarian province, and the possibility of call transfer, the queuing system means few calls are left waiting for too long,
One of the reasons we were invited to the centre, apart from showing us the centre at work, was to impress upon both residents and visitors the importance of remembering the number 112 – and to use it and not 999 in the case of a genuine emergency. Furthermore, 112 is a European number and the European Union is obliging all members states to move towards using this number nationally too so that in the case of an emergency, no matter what EU country you are in, you won’t have to look for a strange number in a panic. In fact over 9,000 foreigners used the number requesting assistance last year, and according to the centre’s statistics since the introduction of a multi-lingual service they have seen an increase by 27% of international calls.
When not to call 112
To ensure the system operates at maximum efficiency it is also important to know when not to call 112. For instance, they are not a weather alert service, and they do not, ever, make decisions about school closures. What the controllers do during a state of emergency is coordinate the relevant information and pass that onto the authorities who do make those kind of decisions (schools, road closures, etc).
According to our helpful guide in the 112 Canarian centre, one of the many good reasons the number was chosen is that children of five and over can count to 10 so 112 is a number that can be memorised by them in the case of a home emergency where they might need to make the call. It’s no harm to help your child learn the number when they reach the right age – after all, it could be them saving your life one day!
(Thanks to the team from the British Consul for organising the visit and the very helpful staff at the 112 centre for taking time out to show us around.)