India May Soon Have 911 Type Single Emergency Number


If you have watched any Hollywood movie, I am sure you will know about 911 emergency number. If not, read more about it here.

Now, similar to US, a single national emergency calling number may soon become a reality in India. An An inter-ministerial panel headed by top home ministry officials have been mandated to finalize the roadmap of a single emergency services number in six weeks, according to the minutes of a confidential interior ministry meeting seen by ET.

Emergency Number-001

With so many unfortunate incidents like accidents and rapes happening across, an emergency number like this is the need of the hour. Though we may be decades late in implementing this, it has come at the right time as we are busy launching 3G and 4G services across India and smartphone penetration increasing day by day.

Once the proposed system goes live, anyone in an emergency situation will be able to access an ambulance, a fire fighter or a policeman by dialing a single number likely to be short and easy to remember. The system would be purely geared “to managing personal emergencies” and “not exigencies triggered by natural calamities”.

Current situation in India: At present, India has multiple emergency hotlines, including 100 (Police), 101 (Fire services), 108 (Ambulance networks) and 1091 (Women’s Helpline). Some projects like Project Dial 100 are already launched in Andhra Pradesh. But the unfortunate thing is, one is not able to connect when it is needed the most.

Current situation abroad: An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. each year. In most western markets- for eg, ‘911’ is used for all emergencies in the US, while the corresponding number for most European Union nations is ‘112’, which can be dialed free of charge from any fixed line or cellphone. In the U.S., Federal Communications Commission rules require every telephone that can access the network to be able to dial 9-1-1, regardless of any reason that normal service may have been disconnected (including non-payment) – it is taken that seriously.

How will it happen: To ensure the new system delivers in India, the home ministry plans to work closely with the telecom department in building a centralized pan-India database for instantly locating any distressed caller on real-time basis, especially since it claims “location accuracy remains a challenge for mobile calls”. In fact, at a recent internal meeting, home secretary Anil Goswami said moves were afoot to create countrywide automatic location information (ALI) database that could be the backbone.

Challenges: Implementing a single nationwide distress hotline may be easier said than done. For instance, a top officer of the Delhi Police, who was present at this meeting chaired by the home secretary, complained that telecom service operators were not forthcoming on sharing location-related details of mobile callers. Without naming any specific telecom operator, he said that operators cite frivolous excuses for not disclosing the requisite caller location information.

Real challenges or excuses: The note also affirms that technologies and equipment are available to directly migrate to new response systems used in the US that are equipped to integrate text message, emails and even video calls.

India specific challenges: We suffer from an infrastructure crisis, especially in the telecom arena. In spite of paying hundreds of bucks in post-paid bills, we are normally in queue while calling the Customer Care or the call drops off. Such challenges, unless rectified by the telecom operators, will be a major bottleneck for any such service pan-India. Otherwise, the service will roll on and it would just be for namesake!

Having said that, having a national single emergency number is an excellent step forward. You will not need remember different numbers for different needs – A single number would do the job for you! Just that it needs to be implemented properly, something that we are not too sure of!

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