Misuse of emergency 112 could cost you up to €23,000

November 24, 2010 in General

Emergency prank calls have always been an issue but new technology installed at the Police Headquarters is allowing officials to investigate the misuse of the 112 emergency number.

Assistant Police Commissioner Josie Brincat is concerned about the misuse of the 112 emergency call service that is saving lives. “Misuse occurs for a number of reasons. Some are simply prank calls while other are merely accidents that could be avoided with some care.

“We have investigated a case where 175 calls were made by a child. To keep the child quiet parents often give their mobile phones to their children and, if these are very young they may coincidentally press 112 and get through to our emergency number or in the case of older children, they do it just for fun.

“What mainly concerns us is that while weareansweringtheseprank calls the lines are busy to people who may be experiencing real emergencies.”

New software allows for identification of the number from which the emergency call is made. Emergency calls can be made without a SIM card or if there is no signal. In this case an IMEI number appears on our screen that can be used to identify the calls made from that specific phone. Investigations will then lead to the owner of the phone.

Brincat says the police are not interested in people who make a one-off mistake, but when thesamenumber appears a number of times, investigations will take place.

The person concerned will be called to Police Headquarters for questioning. If the case appears to be genuine then the person involved will get off with a warning. In cases where misuse was established, the person may be taken to court and fined to a maximum of €23,293 according to the Electronic Communications Regulations for improper use of a mobile phone. An extra charge of €465 may be charged for every day the offence continues.

“I don’t want to see people going to court and getting fined, I want to see proper use being made of the emergency service.”

In September alone, 50,000 calls were made to the emergency service, 20,000 of these were nuisance calls and a further 11,500 hung up within five seconds.

Brincat says that not all calls are deliberately made. In the case of the elderly, who often have an unsteady hand, 112 is often dialed when trying to get through to local enquiries (1182).

A misprint in a magazine distributed with the papers quoted a number beginning with 112. Once that number is dialled it goes straight through to the emergency service.

Other cases however are deliberately made to the emergency services, even though the cases do involve emergencies.

Brincat talks of one social case where a mentally ill person made 15,000 calls to emergency in just one month. “We get elderly people suffering from loneliness who would call to report a broken street lamp and just try to keep some sort of conversation going. That sort of phone call should go to the local police or even police headquarters, but not on the emergency line.”

Again, some elderly people call to report things that their relatives could help them out with, – such as a lack of running water – and that don’t need to be tackled by the emergency services.

“I am not after my pound of flesh. I don’t want to see people getting fined. I just want to be proactive getting people to use the emergency service properly. In the future there will come a time when cars will have an emergency switch that alerts 112 in the event of an accident. This will create a further bottleneck if we do not address the nuisance calls already being received.

“It is vitally important that lines remain open so that where real emergencies are encountered an appropriate team can be sent out.”

Only 19% of Maltese aware of emergency number

As European citizens travel throughout different member states more frequently on business or on holiday, a universal emergency number is of great value.

Malta is one of the countries that is using 112 as its main emergency number, while others operate it alongside national emergency numbers.

112 calls are received by an operator who will either handle the call himself or redirect the call to the appropriate service (ambulance, fire brigade or police).

A Eurobarometer survey published in February 2010 showed that nine out of ten EU citizens found having a single emergency number everywhere in the EU useful. However, two thirds of respondents to the survey believed that people are not adequately informed about 112, which is a call for further action by national authorities.

Even where people recognise 112 as a national emergency number, three out of four are not aware they can call this number from anywhere in the EU.

Only 19% of Maltese are aware that the 112 number is the emergency number to call in Malta and that the number can be used anywhere throughout the EU as opposed to 25%,which is the EU average.

Use of the emergency number should not be taken lightly and unnecessary calls made. If people use the service where there is no real need then the lines will be busy and people in real need of emergency services may not be able to get through.

When calling 112, there is some information that should be prepared. This includes name and location of the emergency – an address and a landmark would be beneficial – and contact number.

By Rachel Zammit Cutajar