Finally, India seems to have woken up to the urgency of having a single emergency response number on the lines of America’s 911. This number may be called for any emergency — police, fire or ambulance.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is planning to bring a consultation paper in this connection soon to kick-start the process of having a single emergency helpline where a call centre will receive all distress calls and then accordingly alert departments or agencies concerned depending upon the type of emergency.

“Today, various states have separate emergency response numbers and in some states even police helpline 100 does not work properly. The Ministry of Home Affairs has also been pushing for a single helpline number in its bid to prepare better for police, fire, medical and other kind of emergencies,” said a senior TRAI official.

“We need a number that could be reached by all types of technologies be it landline, GSM or CDMA. Within next couple of months we will seek opinion from various stakeholders, including Central and state government bodies and private telecom operators, in this connection,” the official said.

Pointing out that the current emergency response system was not appropriate, a senior Ministry of Home Affairs official said it has been observed that people call up emergency number, normally police helpline 100, only to get diverted to other departments, which delays response time. “Having a single emergency number will ensure that a person in distress does not gets diverted to other department or agency…the person manning the emergency number would take the call and then alert the department concerned, say police, fire, medical or disaster management. It will also help fix responsibility if someone is found guilty of any kind of laxity,” the official added.

He further noted that today, there were separate emergency numbers and helplines in most states. For instance, for police a person dials 100 and 101 for fire emergency. Similarly, for medical emergency the helpline is 102 or 108 in many states. “But there is no single helpline as in the U.S. where a person just needs to dial 911 to get immediate help. Interestingly, if someone dials 911 and then hangs up, the call centre person calls that number back to check if everything was ok…We also need to have a similar system in India,” he added.

“We want to make the new emergency mechanism a hi-tech one where all calls would be registered in a computerised system that would track the geographic location of the caller and then alert the closest PCR, fire or ambulance fitted with GPS system to reduce response time. All this would have to be completed within a standard response time,” he said.

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