The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has temporarily rerouted all Emergency Hotline 911 (E911) calls to local call centers after two of its call agents tested positive for COVID-19.
DILG Spokesperson and Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that all of their Emergency Telecommunicators (ETC), including the ten (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.
“In order to ensure the health of our personnel, we have adopted this temporary arrangement to continue serving 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,” he said.
“Because of the pandemic, we are 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,” he added.
Malaya said that they were supposed to have an additional 17 ETCs from the Bureau of Fire Protection; also an attached agency of the DILG, who underwent training this month but two (2) 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 calls.
He said that in 2019 alone, E911 calls swelled from 18.482 million from 1.46-million calls in 2016. This figure was further exacerbated this year when the E911 National Call Center started taking COVID-related calls in a partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) that began on March 17.
He said that the 2 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 its safe for our personnel,” he said.
Malaya, on the other hand, said that 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,” he said.
He said that, in the meantime, there is a delay in the handling of rerouted calls because there are only eight (8) local call centers handling the rerouted calls.
The DILG Spokesperson appealed to the public for understanding and promised that E911 should be fully operational as soon as the safety of their ETCs are assured.