Jun 15, 2009 Letters
When emergency numbers were being formed to be used for emergencies, the authorities wanted lesser digits than a normal phone number, so they came up with a three-digit number that was very simple to remember.
Today, various numbers are used in various countries as emergency numbers. For example, 112 is used in Sweden; 997 in Poland, 100 in Greece and Israel; 000 in Australia; 190 in Brazil; 119 in Jamaica; and 117 in the Philippines. Mexico has a two- digit emergency phone system which is ‘08’ and so does France with ‘17’.
Almost every country in the world has an emergency phone system because at some time or the other people find themselves in a situation which they have little or no control over; people panic, hence they need a source of help, an ear which would listen to their plight in the midst of their fears, confusion and horrific situations.
I remember the TV show which revolved around this very emergency telephone system ‘Rescue 911’ hosted by Stacy Keach. The show’s aim was to give the public some kind of confidence in their local emergency systems through the documented true instances of common people who got the help they needed when they needed it and sort of formed a bond with their 911 operator, who walked with them through and through their plight. Callers, who are in emergencies, are kept on the line collecting vital information, counseling and tips on how to deal with their situations — at least until help arrives — and at the end would unite with their dispatcher or the person who answered their call at the 911 centre. Viewers would remember the dramatic telephone recorded conversations, which the show air as part of the reality TV element, while most of the other portions are re-enacted. All sorts of situations were documented from shootings to murders to household accidents such as cuts, bruises and falls not to mention suicide attempts, women in labour, gas-leaks, electrocutions, etc.
The callers received the attention they needed and overwhelming help from the 911 operators — something I believe we Guyanese would never see in our present day.
Yet again the 911 emergency system has become a national embarrassing spectacle as the shortcomings and failings of the system was exposed by the mourning relatives of those who perished in the waters of the Abary River recently. How embarrassed the authorities must have been when almost every major newscast in the country uncovered the horrible shame of Guyana’s 911 system yet again.
Most naturally, Mrs. Tara Mattai dialed 911 from a cellular phone shortly after the ordeal began that day. The police did inform Guyanese that any call to 911 from a cell phone would be answered by the operators at one of the operations room in Georgetown. Even this is not a good plan because what if someone in Berbice knows that a crime is in progress somewhere in the Essequibo or West Demerara area, then how can this person get help quickly through 911 without being answered by, either with the use of a landline, the police in New Amsterdam or, from a cellular phone, by an operator in the Georgetown operations centre?
It was sad to hear her tell the media that she allegedly dialed 911 over “25 times” and got no response. That is shocking. Of course, this matter, like the others would be swept under the carpet and life would go on until another desperate Guyanese needs urgent police attention and decides to dial 911.
It’s an utter shame and disgrace to have an overseas- based citizen of this country to speak to the media and tell them that after not getting help she had wanted to charter a helicopter to go into the Abary backlands or pay for a rescue team, to assist her in her time of need. That person may not be conscious of the fact that we do have a police force in Guyana to rescue people with capable men and women and equipment, who could’ve been of assistance to her on that fateful day — but that did not happen.
Many countries spend billions of dollars to constantly to repair and upgrade 911 call systems. In the U.S. and even Canada, fees are paid by local and wireless customers and are disbursed to the Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) for 911 services across North America. Is it because the 911 service is free in Guyana that we’re having so many problems accessing help during emergencies? Maybe we need to be surcharged in Guyana as well by the local phone companies.
No one can understand the feelings of a person who is in dire need of help. No one can underestimate the things that person would do just to acquire that help, whether if it is to dial 911 over 25 times, with the little hope that someone — anyone would pick up the phone, lend an ear and perhaps a little word of comfort, and send help — not only say that help is on the way, but monitor the efficiency of those who are in the process of responding to the urgent call for help.
Mrs. Tara Mattai said that she asked the 911 operator for reassurance that help was on the way for her relatives who were drowning in the form of a return call — that call never came back.
Yes, silly persons out there still make a mockery of 911 by playing pranks on the operators, but this is no reason not to answer the telephone, because the moment one ignores that ringing phone may have been the moment someone is in dire need of help.
Guyanese will never know what happened during those moments when Mrs. Tara Mattai dialed 911 over two dozen times. More so, Guyanese would never understand the pain and agony which she felt during those antagonizing moments of being ignored by those whom are supposed to get help for us in times of need.
Does it make sense to call 911 in emergencies? I think not. These cases of persons not getting through to 911 during emergencies must be investigated and charges for dereliction of duty be laid. One thing I know for sure is that, like Mrs. Mattai’s 25 telephone calls to 911, my letter would also be ignored by those who posses the power to fix this problem.
Leon Jameson Suseran
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