The implementation of 112 as a national emergency number is back on the cards and is being planned as a public-private partnership (PPP) that will be completed in the second half of 2012.
After several implementation delays and talk of the pilot centre being shut down, the Department of Communications (DOC) will see the project through.
“The department has taken the decision to continue with this project; as a result, we have commenced with the initial process of revitalising the project in the form of a PPP.”
The DOC adds that the expected timelines to have the PPP completed would be in the latter part of 2012, since there have been significant changes in the project process.
In August last year, the department had said implementation of a single national emergency number would happen “soon” and specifically in the first or second quarter of the next financial year.
Currently, the recognised public emergency numbers in SA are 10111, 10177 and 112 for mobile phones.
The DOC has not yet provided any details on the tender process for the PPP.
The 112 emergency pilot call centre reportedly cost R80 million, but has been stuck in pilot mode for more than four years.
“All lessons learned and outcomes of the 112 pilot project are considered and being incorporated onto the project plan,” says the department.
Dr Cleeve Robertson, director of the Metro Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the Western Cape, says it took about R40 million to build the centre and install IT systems, and another R40 million went into paying the staff over the last few years.
He adds that the high costs are due to the DOC’s plan to build new centres, which are not necessary. Robertson blames the DOC’s financial model and says there are existing centres that could have been used.
Millions went into the 10111 emergency centres as well. These centres overspent their budgets, according to police minister Nathi Mthethwa.
In the 2008/9 financial year, the centres spent R34 million, having been allocated only R29 million.
EMS had called for the implementation of a centralised emergency number (112), because responses from the 10111 centres were delayed and not always reliable.
“People feel safe in their homes, because they know they can call 10111, but when you do call the chances of actually getting through to an SAPS member are very slim,” says Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of police Dianne Kohler Barnard.
In response to a DA parliamentary question in 2009, the minister of police revealed the nationwide average response time to calls made to these centres is 42 minutes.
Kohler Barnard acknowledges the need for a national emergency number, but says creating new 112 centres is not a logical plan.
“Why try out a pilot for another centre when the 10111 centre simply doesn’t work? Why create another number? I find it very bizarre that they would just try another number.”
She adds that it is not a good idea to put money into another number, when millions have already been put into the 10111 version that is failing.
“My thought is that whatever money was spent on this pilot should have been spent on upgrading the 10111 call centres, so that citizens who had emergencies could actually have their calls answered.”
In the meantime, the call centre response has been acknowledged as being so poor that the ministry of police took to handing out cellphone numbers of police officials last year.
Releasing cellphone numbers of individual police officers and generals may be the new route taken in terms of community safety, according to the ministry.
Police officials were asked by national police commissioner Bheki Cele to give out their cellphone numbers, and the department is in the process of printing out a national directory so all citizens will have access to the numbers of generals and other officials.