Telekom wins control of 999 line


Telekom wins control of 999 line
By : Alang Bendahara

KUALA LUMPUR: Telekom Malaysia Bhd has won a decade-long tussle with the police over control of 999 calls, perpetuating a system that has long been criticised for its slow response times.

The New Straits Times understands that the national utility has convinced senior government officials that it could not give police direct access to emergency calls and its subscriber database unless it was paid between RM500 million and RM1 billion a year.

Bukit Aman has been asking the national utility to route all distress calls directly to police command centres and open up its subscriber databases, a move which would drastically reduce the time it would take to respond to emergencies.

Instead, Telekom offered to operate all emergency numbers and keep its telephone number listings private, maintaining the status quo, sources said.

Callers have to deal with two sets of telephonists, Telekoms and that of the police, on top of the time it takes to transfer the call from one to the other.
Police also said that the absence of caller identification makes it difficult for them to locate the calls and identify cranks.

Yesterday, the Internal Security Ministry announced that Telekom has been made the co-ordinator for a new emergency call system that will regroup all emergency calls under the 999 number.

Parallel emergency numbers, such as 991 for the Civil Defence Department and 994 for Fire and Rescue, were introduced in 1991.

The police have contended for years that emergency response times could be drastically reduced if 999 calls are patched through directly to their dispatchers.

Police also believe that emergency response times would continue to be slow while Telekom operators take emergency calls because 999 was a “hunting” line.

At present, emergency calls are handled by Telekom Malaysia operators, who usually handle enquiries on telephone number listings.

This means a call put through from here to 999 could be picked up by an operator in Kuala Terengganu or Kuching if the operators in the city are busy, for example.

Delays arise when operators unfamiliar with streets and addresses in the city spend valuable seconds or minutes determining the exact location of a caller who may well be facing a life and death situation.

The Telekom operator would also have to spend time locating the correct police station or command centre to relay the information.

Such delays appear to have driven the police to set up their own hotline service, Rakan Cop, in 2004. The service has helped speed up police response times tremendously.

But this could be even quicker if 999 calls are patched through directly to police command centres, according to sources.

With access to Telekoms database of customers, the polices C4I real-time mapping system can post callers addresses immediately on an electronic map which also indicates where patrol cars are located.

This would make it easy for the C4I commander to dispatch the nearest patrol car.

Since the C4I was launched in 2005, police response times have been shortened, to about eight minutes on average in Selangor and here.

Opening up the database would also allow police to map crime hotspots and trace crank callers, sources said.

Yesterday, Internal Security secretary-general Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said Telekom had been instructed to upgrade the system to one that could handle multiple calls at one time.

“The government introduced different numbers because the previous 999 (system) was plagued with a lot of problems like unanswered calls.”

The current system, of different numbers for different emergency services, has “caused confusion”, he said.