Floods spark 999 phone chaos
Callers desperately seeking ambulances unable to get through
Published 03/11/2011 | 05:00
MEMBERS of the public desperately seeking ambulances during last month's floods were unable to get through due to "serious problems" with busy emergency phone lines.
At one stage there were "several hundred" queued incident calls in Dublin unable to get through. Internal memos from fire officers regarding the Eastern Regional Control Centre (ERCC) paint a picture of a system in chaos at the beginning of the winter weather season.
Dublin Fire Brigade said that while it was currently carrying out a "detailed review of operations on the night", it had experienced a surge in telephone activity.
Staff, working desperately to keep up with demand, were forced to use their own mobile phones to call people and check on their condition.
A memo seen by the Irish Independent commended staff for rallying to the cause -- but the officer noted: "There is a very serious issue with the ERCC phone lines.
"Because of the number of calls, ambulance calls were not getting through. We need a prioritisation system which will ensure that the most urgent calls -- eg cardiac arrest, fires -- can still get through quickly during events of this kind."
But both Dublin Fire Brigade and BT Ireland, which operates the 999 call service, insist they both had priority systems in place during the floods.
An email from another officer commended the "ERCC personnel and the committed manner in which they all went above and beyond the call of duty".
However, he pointed out that there were a lack of facilities for staff to handle the sheer volume of calls.
"People were standing at back-up phones, as there were not enough chairs," he wrote.
"Personnel were even using their own mobile phones at one stage to call back members of the public to see had their conditions worsened."
On the night of the floods neither Fingal nor Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council initiated their Major Emergency Plans as conditions in those areas were not deemed serious enough.
However, Dublin City Council chaired an emergency committee for the Dublin area along with South Dublin County Council, gardai, the HSE and the Civil Defence.
A spokesman said that concerns raised in the memos would form part of an overall review of procedures in the wake of the floods.
A statement from the fire brigade, which comes under the auspices of the council said: "The night in question was an unprecedented one, with the brigade receiving an extremely high volume of calls.
"The Major Emergency Plan was activated and all available resources were deployed on the night and the staff worked in a dedicated and professional manner under very busy conditions. A detailed review of operations on the night is currently being carried out."
Emergency 999 calls are operated by the Emergency Call Answering Service, under the remit of the Department of Communications.
When somebody calls 999 or 112, they are initially put through to a service run by BT Ireland. BT in turn reroutes their query to the appropriate authority.
BT Ireland said it "has an agreed escalation process in place" to handle increased and unexpected volumes of calls.
"The system has the capability to manage and prioritise calls received by it, as well of procedures to bypass normal systems when such circumstances arise," it added.