The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said it has temporarily diverted Emergency Hotline 911 (E911) calls to local call centers because two of the call agents tested positive for COVID-19.
DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that "all our Emergency Telecommunicators (ETC), including the 10 Department of Health COVID Hotline agents assigned to E911, are under home quarantine as a safety precaution while the 911 National Call Center (NCC) is being disinfected, proper ventilation is being installed, and contact tracing is being conducted’’.
Malaya said that these measure were adopted to “ensure the health of our personnel’’ while continuing to serve the public with the help of call centers managed by local government units.
“All of our personnel have undergone PCR tests, are currently under home quarantine, and will return to work as soon as they test negative or have completed the 14-day quarantine,” Malaya said.
Due to the pandemic, Malaya said the agency is “facing serious technical, manpower and operational challenges but we are now addressing these issues and we hope to partially operate by September 7 and then fully operate by September 16.’’
Malaya noted they were supposed to have an additional 17 ETCs from the Bureau of Fire Protection “who underwent training this month but two of them also tested positive of COVID-19 hence their deployment was suspended, and they are now undergoing quarantine’’.
The E911 hotline is a DILG-run security and development program that provides response and emergency assistance to people in distress.
Calls coursed through this number include those that require police assistance, fire reports, emergency medical assistance, search and rescue, and even those that concern chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) materials.
18 million E911 calls vs 80 ETCs
E911 Executive Director Diosdado Valeroso said that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the E911 hotline was already handling an overwhelming number of calls despite only having 80 ETCs nationwide who work in shifts 24 hours/day to answer queries.
He said that in 2019 alone, E911 calls swelled from 18.482 million from 1.46-million calls in 2016.
Valeroso said the figure further surged this year when the E911 National Call Center started taking COVID-related calls in a partnership with the DOH beginning on March 17.
He said that the two ETCs that tested positive for COVID are now recovering from the disease and are in isolation.
“Our intention is to redeploy all our agents, together with the DOH agents assigned to us, as soon as it’s safe for our personnel,” Valeroso said.
Malaya added they are now exploring a work-from-home arrangement for a portion of their workforce so that E911 can answer emergency calls and dispatch emergency responders if a similar situation happens again’.
“We are currently working on the technical issues that have to be resolved for the WFH arrangement,” Malaya said.
In the meantime, Malaya said there is a delay in the handling of rerouted calls because there are only eight local call centers handling the rerouted calls.
The DILG spokesperson appealed to the public for understanding while vowing that E911 should be fully operational as soon as the safety of their ETCs are assured.