Seares: 'Cebu City 911' to connect you soon, if City Hall plan finally pushes through. Duterte’s national emergency hotline, launched in 2016, not working, at least not in Cebu, where LGUs use own uncentralized phone numbers.

Contributed photos
Contributed photos

THE SITUATION. Launched on August 1, 2016, barely a month after then president Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, his own hotline project replaced the three-digit number 117 (Patrol 117) with 911. But here’s the thing: Except for the change in number, Duterte merely used the then-existing call center in Quezon City, serving Metro Manila, and 15 others in a full network of call centers across the county, including one in Cebu City.

A call by mobile or landline to 911 would link with the call center nearest to the site of the emergency. Simply dial the famous, easy-to-recall “911” and just like in the movies, presto, the plea for help is heard and the ambulance, fire truck, or rescue team soon arrives at the scene.

That was the goal of the project, patterned after his 911 initiative when he was mayor of Davao City (for seven terms starting 1986). It was also to complement his simultaneously launched 8888 Citizens’ Complaint Center.

That must not have worked -- at least the 911 project and at least in Cebu – in places where local governments have used their own phone numbers to accept emergency calls. In Cebu City, for example, the emergency number that residents are asked to dial is 166 or 262-1424 or, on top of the landline numbers, any of three mobile phone numbers. Not 911.

THE NUMBER, THE FUNCTIONS. Councilor Rey M. Gealon’s ordinance, for which the Cebu City Council conducted a brief public hearing Wednesday (February 15, 2023) and approved the committee on laws report, seeks to make 911 the city’s emergency number.

Named Cebu City 911 Ordinance, the measure would:

[1] Use the number 911 – designated by the president’s executive order, #56 dated May 25, 2018 -- for all emergency, medical, calamity, disaster, peace and order and concerns within the city’s territory.

[2] Set up an Emergency Response Center, to be called Cebu City 911 Emergency Response Center or “Cebu City 911 ERC,” which shall “attend to all calls” in the City. It will be attached to the disaster office CCDRRMO supervised ad controlled by the city mayor. The office will have a supervisor and administrative officer and six other specified personnel.

[3] “Answer, receive, relay, record and monitor all emergency calls made from 911 in the city” and “dispatch the needed response team by coordinating with government agencies and private volunteer groups “nearest to the area of incidence, calamity or disaster.”

HOW IT FITS WITH NATIONAL SYSTEM. As “universal emergency number,” 911 is intended as a nationwide telephone number to give the "fast and easy access" to PSAP or Public Safety Answering Point.

In 1998, DILG or the local government department organized the Emergency Network Philippines (ENP) and on July 4, 2003, the number 117 was adopted as the national emergency number. It’s not known how much it has succeeded, even after the ENP was set up and, later, after Duterte changed the national emergency number from 117 to 911.

That Cebu City has still to set up its own system and has not yet been using 911 should give an idea on the progress of the national government’s effort.

LOCALIZATION DOESN’T MEAN ISOLATION from the national emergency network. Gealon’s proposal would have the local 911 ERC (a) coordinate with the Emergency 911 Commission for “confirmation and/or accreditation” of Cebu Cebu City 911 ERC; (b) conduct its own trainings and trainings of the said commission for its local personnel and volunteers; and (c) “coordinate on and complement” implementation of national guidelines.

The ordinance also imposes on the city’s disaster office CCDRRMO, “in coordination with the 911 national commission, “ the task to “appeal” to all mobile and landline telecommunication network providers in the city to make the 911 calls from Cebu City free of charge.

HOW MUCH IT WILL COST. A technical working group, headed by the mayor and the chief of the disaster office CCDRMO, will implement the ordinance, for which an “initial budget” of P5 million is proposed.

It will cost a lot more for its operations. Davao City and Kidapawan City, the only two cities publicly known to have a 911 system, may provide an idea on the cost. Gealon’s proposal doesn’t include an estimate of expenses for 24/7, year-round work and technical equipment.

Davao’s 911 service, launched on September 27, 2002, started as a lighting project with Davao Light and Power Co., to help curb crime incidents in that city. It has since evolved into “a centralized and integrated system to the nearest emergency responders.” Aside from answering calls for help in fire breakouts, medical emergencies and the like, they also conduct search and rescue operations, with a K-9 unit among its resources.

FAILED DEAL IN 2017. Compare Davao City’s record with the pace of Cebu City’s effort to set up its own 911.

In December 2017, when Tomas Osmeña was mayor, Cebu City was negotiating with PLDT for a P15 million “Smart SOS Dispatch Service,” described as a “cloud-based public safety emergency response system connected to the existing 911 system” of DILG. The attractive pitch: Calls aren’t transferred to Manila, calls are picked up at once by the local system. Obviously, the would-be deal fell through the cracks.

As of last Wednesday, in year 2023, the 911 project was still going through the local legislative mill.

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