US$29.5 million for 911 calls

A story in Diario Libre reporting that 98.5% of 911 calls were prank calls created much impact when first released last week, based on data provided by the Ministry of Interior. Now a follow-up report discloses that the Ministry will be taking on a US$29.5 million loan to install what they call a more efficient system. As reported, the sum is part of a US$160 million loan allocated to the National Police in the 2011 National Budget.

Prank callers jeopardize the 911 service provided by the Ministry of Interior. Diario Libre reported that the current 911 call center functions with 130 operators on seven shifts, seven days a week, all year long.

Genuine users of the service have always complained the lines are busy. As reported in Diario Libre, of 1,820,290 calls received from January to October, only 26,332 turned out to be genuine. Ministry of Interior statistics shows that of the calls made from January to June, 3,319 were to report fighting, 3,120 accidents, 1,818 fires, 1,754 thefts and 1,414 weather issues. Among the cases least reported were drugs, with 15 calls, electricity, with 19 and noise with 120.

Lidia Toribio, who works at the call center, is aware of the complaints that the service is inefficient at times and that there are personnel who do not always appear at their best. “We have deficiencies because in the Dominican Republic 911 does not exist as such, as we would like it,” she said.

She explained that operators only receive the calls and transfer them to the institutions that should respond, like Public Health, the fire department, the National Police or the Emergency Operations Center. “We try to do the best job and train staff,” said Toribio.

“We need to create awareness that 911 is supposed to provide an emergency service for the citizens who use it, and if we do not use it properly, we are keeping a citizen from receiving the proper assistance that he or she needs at that moment”, she added.

Meanwhile, Santo Domingo East Fire Service chief Colonel Rafael Javier Bueno, said that 95% of the cases of fires are reported directly to the station.