Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Unavailable emergency numbers worry NCC

Worried by the unavailability of emergency numbering system in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) at the weekend, assembled telecommunications operators in the country to a one-day session to deliberate on this matter and chart a way forward.

The meeting was also attended by stakeholders in emergency-related entities, like the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and a consultant as well as all the key three Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) operators in the country.

Speaking at the session, Executive Commissioner, NCC, Mr. Stephen Bello, said that the commission is very concerned hence its championing the meeting and added that various meetings have been scheduled with different categories of stakeholders to enable adequate inputs from the generality of the nation’s interest parties.

He equally used the platform to reveal that plans have been up to ensure the introduction of the national emergency numbers in the country before the end of June this year.

“We want to see how we could start commissioning by June,” he declared.

Also, Mr. Bello said that NCC is contemplating of introducing some emergency numbers, namely 999, 111, 123 and 555.

He added that operators would be required to connect the eventual chosen numbers together in a way that if emergency number in Lagos is engaged and the relevant base station is down, the one at the neighbouring state like Ogun, could automatically be used to contact security and emergency agencies to the spot.

He further said that every base station to be used for the emergency numbering, would be configured in a way to recognise emergency calls and make room for such calls in any base station no matter how busy at all times.

Besides, he said, that plans are underway for the establishment of emergency centres at the six-geographical zones of the country as well as in the states.

He also revealed that the on-going consultation by NCC is in collaboration with NEMA and is expected to come in phases, across four levels including interaction with telecom equipment vendors, operators, response agencies and governors.

This, he said, is in addition to a generic stakeholders’ meeting on emergency numbering before the commissioning could take place.

NCC, he said, has created a special unit at its Abuja office to give the required attention to the issues at stake.

“There would be a public forum on it and this is just the beginning,” he said.

The consultation, he further disclosed is anticipating that operators would work toward having emergency numbers that could be accessed through the possibilities of Short Messaging Service (SMS) and voice calls.

Explaining further, Mr. Bello said that a project is on to compile the list of all the security and emergency agencies in the country, including their geographic locations and numbers.

He stressed that ambulance organisations, both at the public and private sectors would not be left out in the compilation to make it handy for Nigerians to know who to contact at a given location that is nearest to emergency incidents nationwide.

Also speaking at the occasion, Deputy Director, Communications at NEMA, Mr. Daniel Balarabe Gambo, Deputy Director, Communications, said that NEMA has identified primary responders to emergencies to include the Federal Road Safety Corps, Fire Service, Police, pointing out that NEMA is a coordinating body as far as emergency situation is concerned in the country, noting that at every emergency, its usually the ordinary citizens that are the first to know, hence they are focusing on schools to enable the inculcation of this important aspect of the society in school children, especially for them to know what to do at such times.

He emphasised that NEMA is working on a legislation to discourage false emergency calls, even as there would be penalty for culprits to serve as deterrent.

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