News : Public Emergency Communication Centre Celebrates 15 Years of Service.
What began in 1983 as seven 24-hour emergency calltaking workstations and five training stations has evolved into a slick and effective dedicated call centre, staffed by 68 highly trained emergency communicators.
This year, the Public Emergency Communication Centre (PECC) celebrates 15 years of service to the people of Cape Town via the 1-0-7 emergency number.
Established as a stand-alone facility in August 2000 under the management of John Ellis, the PECC – and the 107 number – enables residents to call for help when life or property are in danger. Calls are quickly dispatched to the most relevant emergency service provider, including the Fire & Rescue Service, Disaster Risk Management, Metro Police, Law Enforcement, Traffic Services and, externally, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Western Cape Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
As a close-knit family, the departments and sections within the PECC are dependent on one another to function effectively and provide a proficient service. These family members are the operations, administrative, service quality and technical departments.
The nuts and bolts, and much more Without the technical department’s efforts to remain at the forefront of innovation, the calltakers would not be able to assist the public as effectively as they do. Included in its technology toolbox, PECC technical staff have fibre-to-desktop-configured workstations using a Matrox RGU solution, mirrored servers, integrated CAD and mapping software for call-taking, Avaya dual-cab VoIP PBX with multiple entry points, dual UPS with a backup generator managed via an Upsilon STS, voice and screen recording, as well as an assessment suite for quality assurance. The environment is configured for high availability and thus, there is no single point of failure – no part of the system that, if it fails, would crash the whole system.
With the planned implementation of Programme EPIC (Emergency & Policing Incident Command), the PECC will be in an even better position to serve the citizenry through this integrated technology platform.
Says Head: Technical Support Jeremiah Phillips: "Although we pride ourselves on maintaining zero downtime through the effective use of technology, we see our emergency operators as key to our processes. Our technical team offers 24/7 support, and through research and development we are continually evolving and adapting our technical strategy."
John Ellis, Head: PECC, says that the call centre is once again entering a new phase in this dynamic industry with the implementation of new systems that will hopefully streamline its operations and ensure even better service. "As in the past, there will likely be additional challenges in the future, but hopefully we will all grow and develop to be stronger over time," says John.
"I wish to sincerely thank all centre staff for their contribution to the successes we have achieved during our 15 years of existence, and especially those responsible for ensuring that calls for assistance are channelled to the correct emergency responders. You are the heart and soul of our operation! "At times when a caller’s verbal abuse gets you down, your energy and dedication to rise above and face the unknown situation of the next call is truly appreciated."
Emergency communicators work in shifts to provide a 24/7 service in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa, with 80% calls answered within 20 seconds. Some callers are in a state of panic, but the trained staff are adept at calming them down while obtaining information about the incident, before contacting the relevant service providers to respond to the emergency.
"Apart from emergency calls, the centre also receives many prank calls that slow down operations and stress the emergency call-takers," says Jaco Groenewald, Head: Operations.
A prank call causes a 10-second delay, which could mean life or death for someone else who has to wait in the queue to speak to an operator. In the first three months of this year, 29 808 prank calls were received, which account for over 20% of calls in that period.
"We appeal to parents to please discourage their children from this behaviour and educate them on the purpose of the number," says Jaco.
The service quality department is responsible for quality assessment, training and development and public education and awareness. All emergency communicators receive comprehensive training when they join the PECC, which covers standard operating procedures, systems training and practical buddy training – a system in which two people, the ‘buddies’, operate together as a single unit so that they are able to monitor and help each other.
Theory is assessed by a written test and keyboard skills demand a speed of 35 words per minute with 90% accuracy.
During buddy training, the trainees’ calls are evaluated to ensure that they give good-quality service to callers and conforming to standard operating procedure – obtaining and capturing accurate and relevant information and handing it over to the relevant service providers. They are also expected to deal with each call in a professional manner and investigate complaints and provide feedback to the complainant.
Refresher training is provided to all staff, especially before the festive season.
The public education and awareness team works hard on extensive programmes, supported by a range of promotional materials, which are presented at schools, libraries, shopping malls and community events to raise awareness about the 107 service and also to curtail abuse of the number.
"The correct training of our staff is essential, but creating awareness about the correct use of the 107 service is equally important," says service quality head Estelle-Maré le Keur.
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The City of Cape Town is the metropolitan municipality which governs the city of Cape Town, South Africa and its suburbs and exurbs. As the 2011 census, it had a population of 3,740,026.
Published: Wednesday, July 29, 2015