As I said the other day, I was recently at an English-language press guided tour of the 112-Canarias hub in Santa Cruz. Set on the top floor of a building just behind the Cabildo, 112 is a privately-run public service which provides emergency responses at local, insular, and regional level for the Canarian Government and Cabildo. The director himself divides his time between East and West provinces in the Canaries, each one of which has its own insular director who oversees the service in the individual islands. Under the insular director is a coordination centre which triages incoming calls so that the most urgent are prioritised.
Calls come into the call centre and are entered into a database while the caller is on the phone. The coordination centre then flags the various sections of the hub which will be involved. These sections include the obvious fire, ambulances, police, coastguard, etc., and there is also a team of qualified doctors in the hub at all times so that telephone assistance can be provided while help is on its way. Each desk in the hub has three screens to follow, and each shows the same information so the coordination is total, and above them all, with a 360º viewpoint, is a screen showing the action in the hub at any given moment, including the length of time any particular section is taking to deal with a call – the longest delay I saw in the three hours I was there was 58 seconds.
Callers’ first contact, of course, is with the call centre, and they are asked for the three Ws: Who, What, Where. As part of the “Who”, a telephone number is requested as a priority so that if the connection is lost during the call, they can be called back. Hoax calls are mercifully rare, they were pleased to say, perhaps the result of an increasing technological ability to trace calls – it’s not just landlines which are now easily traceable. And yet, the hub coordination chief said, every single call is dealt with, even when a hoax is suspected. The phone of someone reporting a fire visible from a house in Arico, for example – that was the case on the morning of my visit – might show up as located in Lanzarote. That could suggest a hoax, but it would still be checked out, albeit not with the top priority it would be allocated if the phone was evidently in Arico itself.
Apart from the thankfully few hoax calls, the main problem the hub has is with inappropriate calls. Everyone there was at pains to request the public not to call to find out what the weather was going to be like (that’s what the internet is for, they said), or whether there was going to be school tomorrow. That is the top inappropriate call, it seems – and though important, is not an emergency! The appropriate avenue for information about schools is the education department – and only the education department, and sources who report direct from it. With some 6,000 calls each and every day of the year coming into the Santa Cruz hub alone, one can see why they want to keep the lines free for genuine cases of life or death, injury, crime or damage.
In addition to dealing with the public, the hub has a crisis room where major emergencies like forest fires or volcanic eruptions can be dealt with, coordinating not just emergency services, but the political and technical response. The regional director explained that the emergency services operate under political auspices because priorities are set by the Canarian government and island Cabildos. Thus in a major event, politicians need to be involved to decide what the nature of the response should be, and the level of insular and regional responsibility. Technicians also need to be involved – phone and electricity lines might be affected, or water supplies. The sala de crisis has, on occasion, been full with people dealing with a volcanic eruption (El Hierro) and two forest fires (La Palma and La Gomera) at the same time!
112-Canarias has been available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, since 1998. Staff there can deal with the public in English as well as Spanish, and also German, French and Italian, the languages identified as those spoken by the overwhelming majority of those making the calls. Calls are free whether made from landlines, phone boxes or mobiles, and in fact are given extra coverage by mobile phone operators so that even when there might be no cover for ordinary calls, 112 can be reached.
I’ll post again shortly with information about a couple of apps that are making the service even more accessible and simpler to use for smartphones.