Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Importance of emergency numbers

Features of the week:

Over the years, Nigerians have lost friends, relatives and even properties to incidents that could have been averted, simply because there was no known emergency numbers to reach out when necessary. REMMY NWEKE in this report stresses the importance of emergency numbers.

ALMOST a daily occurrence, incidents happen that make some good spirited Nigerians to reach out to the relevant authorities for an emergency assistance. Penultimate Wednesday was not an exception as he drove through the Third Mainland bridge, Mr. Bisi Oye saw some motorists parking their vehicles on top of the bridge to have a glimpse of the scene.

For Mr. Oye, a public relations consultant, the first thing that came to his mind was to alert the emergency groups with the Critical Rescue International (CRI), which was launched a few years back by a telecommunications operator, Econet, which has since transformed into Zain on his GSM phone via 112.

The response he got was that already another Nigerian has initiated a call a few minutes earlier to them and CRI crew is on the way to the scene.

With his mind now settled that help is on the way, he continued his trip to Victoria Island and at Falomo, Mr. Oye tuned the car radio to Eko FM which fortunately was broadcasting live a session between the Organised Private Sector (OPS) and Lagos State governor, Mr. Raji Fashola, on the occasion of his 400 days in office.

Lagos wants 767 emergency number:
Gov. Fashola used the platform to appeal to telecom regulator in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) over the Lagos State emergency number 767.
According to the governor, the appeal has become imperative in the face of recent aid the State received due to active usage of the Save Our Soul (SOS) number. He cited an instance of a robbery attack the week before the meeting, at the Lekki axis of Lagos, of which a good citizen was able to put a call through to the 767 and in matter of 90 seconds, the police anti-robbery team was at the scene and was able to forestall the activities of the underworld men.

“We urge the NCC to allow the number to remain active,” he solicited, although the regulator noted complicity in SOS number with another special number within the sector, Fashola said that Lagos State made representation to the federal government in that regard, and as matter of fact the issue formed part of the agenda at his recent meeting with the Vice President in Abuja.

Emergency centre contract awarded:

And a fortnight ago, NCC announced that work has commenced on the N2.4 billion Emergency Communications Centres, which contract was formally awarded on February 19 as proclaimed by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for the construction of the centres in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

According to the Head, Public Affairs at NCC, Mr. Reuben Muoka, the centres would cost N2.4 billion, while the communications gadgets would be installed at N1.8 billion ($13.5 million), whereas the local contractors handling the project have been given 16 weeks, approximated four months, to complete the contract.

He also said that a Chinese firm, Huwaei Technologies, was selected and given 24 weeks to supply and install the equipment in the 37 centres nationwide, just as he expressed optimism that the contractors who have moved to the sites would deliver the projects on schedule, stressing that the importance of an emergency communications system in the country could not be quantified monetarily.

Better late than never:
“Nigeria is one of the countries of the world without an emergency communications system. These centres would cater for everything about emergency that relates to the lives of the people and their well being. It is late in coming, as Nigeria ought to have built such centres 20 years back, it is not about money, it is about getting it to happen. It is a custom-made, sophisticated and state of the art network,” he asserted.

Explaining that with the centres “the NCC, hospitals, police and fire departments, would utilise a toll free emergency system to ensure that callers receive help as quickly as possible,” he declared, reiterating that since the contract was approved by FEC, it means that all the relevant due process must have been taken into account.

Section 107 and NCC:
Based on the NCC’s invitation for bids in 2007, which is in line with provisions of section 107 (3) (b) of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003, the NCC, is mandated to facilitate the deployment of a comprehensive, seamless, ubiquitous and reliable end-to-end emergency communication infrastructure for Nigeria.

NCC also said that the purpose of the Emergency Communication Centres (ECC) is to receive all emergency calls (‘199’ calls) being made by subscribers on all national telecommunication networks. The call is to be received by a human operator (Call Agent) in the centre who will then alert the appropriate response agency (Fire Service, Police, Ambulance, and so on) via the same public telephone system or a communication network dedicated for emergency services.

NCC as the implementing agency for the project, no doubt, has concluded the necessary processes to arrive at the award of contract, which has been approved by FEC.

Call distribution via ECC:
As outlined by NCC, the ECC is expected to have a tandem switch/router and associated subsystems that would facilitate its performance of relevant functions not excluding having E1 links or trunk circuits to enable it interconnect with one or more public switches also known as Mobile Switching Centre (MSC).

E1, according to experts is ideal for voice traffic because voice is sampled at the same 8 Kilo Hertz (khz) rate, thus, E1 line has the capacity to carry upto 32 simultaneous voice conversions.

Additionally, ECC tends to provide telephony functions to enable availability of basic telephone service to the centre, that is, ability to dial from internal extension to the public telephony systems, as well as have the hardware and software capability to capture and decipher all call data transferred to it by public switches such as geographical coordinates of cell sites, Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates caller or geographical location of caller in a given city, state and local government.

NCC pointed out that there are both the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)-based telephone systems in the country, besides the fixed land-lines, hence, the translation or mapping of cell site coordination cum identification of the geographical address of cell site; city, LGA, state, would be done by the public switch.

On the call distribution, NCC said that ECC would have the capability to display all these information on a computer screen or monitor attached to the particular extension or call agent receiving the call, while incoming calls must be routed to any idle call agent or keeps such a call(s) on queue until a call agent is free or at best, it should be able to route incoming call to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR), whereas waiting for a call agent to be free.

Database interface:
Equally, there would be a database query, where tandem switch or interface equipment with the capability of querying the database of response agencies in database server in order to extract the information simultaneously; The telephone number and geographical location of the three (3) nearest ambulance services in the order of proximity or approximated distance; The telephone numbers and geographical location of the three (3) nearest police stations to the caller; The telephone number and geographical location of the 3 nearest fire service stations or Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC) offices to the caller to name a few.

This is in addition to the ability to initiate an automatic call-back, which must be the tandem switch/system, thus enabling the call agent or receptionist to call back the calling subscriber, without having to redial the number of the caller, by simply pressing a button or key.

The CRI connection:
In furtherance of the merits of this effort by NCC, a leading mobile telecommunications operator in the country, MTN Nigeria, also partnered recently the Critical Rescue International (CRI) with two emergency lines for its subscribers use nationwide.

Speaking at the launch held in Surulere-Lagos, the chief marketing officer, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Bola Akingbade, said the telecom operator is providing 191 for medical advisory services and 933 for emergency calls for MTN teeming subscribers in the country, otherwise called MTN Care lines.

According to him, MTN via the partnership is facilitating the services of CRI to all its customers, while CRI is the main service provider, stressing that though the service is currently available in the cities of Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, it is intended to be extended to other parts of the country.

The medical director of CRI, Dr. Akin Akinjolire, said his outfit was incorporated in 2001 with the mission to save lives by offering effective emergency health services to Nigerians, therefore, it became the first of a national advanced medical paramedic company. “We are in business to manage medical emergencies wherever and whenever they occur in our area of operation,” he said, noting that on hand to deliver the innovative services is a team of uniquely qualified international and local medical personnel.

He also said that they offer 24/7 services, thus keen at offering first aid training for corporate staff, which would be a constant feature of this partnership with MTN.
ITRealms Online recalled that also through Zain 112 emergency line CRI provides emergency care service needed within the Nigerian nation - state fire, state police and state ambulance services for Zain subscribers initially in Lagos and may be Abuja and Port Harcourt.

However, the subject of interest to Nigerians is whether they could be charged for initiating an emergency call on NCC provided emergency numbers as obtained currently in the CRI deal with some of the GSM operators for their subscribers.

And given the words of NCC’s spokesman, it would be a toll-free line - 199, anytime there is an emergency. Hence, one good aspect of the project is that dailing 199 emergency number would be free nationwide, instead of the limited emergency plans by some concerned operators like Zain and MTN currently.

Most of all, the initiative is commendable, because several lives and properties could have been saved if such scheme were in place years back. But then, thank God and the wisdom of the Federal Executive Council to support this project without politicization of the initiative.

As Nigerians await the completion of the ECC project, it is only honourable for every stakeholders beyond telecom sector to buy into the project by ensuring, especially the security services live up to their billings as well as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) as enshrined in Act 12 as amended by Act 50 of 1999.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D


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