Satellite system will cut response time to emergency calls

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 February, 2005, 12:00am

People dialling for help will no longer need to give address

Emergency calls for ambulances and firemen should get faster responses from this month, when the Fire Services Department launches a $550 million call system.

It will be able to handle more than 900,000 calls for help a year without requiring extra staff.

'At the moment we are getting about 600,000 calls a year, and the third-generation [system] is designed to meet the increased demands in the coming decade,' said Fire Services director Anthony Lam Chun-man yesterday.

The system, which uses satellite positioning, will show the exact locations of emergencies and the whereabouts of the nearest emergency vehicles - cutting down the time to find vehicles and allowing more calls to be taken.

But minor teething problems are expected, such as blind spots in the satellite tracking system for emergency vehicles.

The old system will be kept running until the new one is working perfectly, to ensure each call gets answered, Mr Lam said.

The system is due to roll out in the New Territories in three weeks and, once ready, in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Officials hope that will be before the end of March.

It will allow emergency phone operators immediately to see where calls originated, if they are made on a land line.

'We [currently] have to ask the caller to provide an address, and sometimes when people are in a panic it can take a long time,' said Li Hung-sum, the senior divisional officer who is responsible for developing and implementing the new system.

It will also ensure the accuracy of the address received. The Fire Services Department is waiting to see how that feature can be extended to calls made with mobile phones.

Callers who are unsure where they are will only have to look as far as the nearest lamp post.

Each one will carry a number linked to the system.

The department has been doing dry runs on the everyday use of the new system, since October last year.

Emergency services have been using the system, as well as the existing one, while responding to real emergencies.

Deputy Fire Services Director Kwok Jing-keung, who chairs a cross-governmental committee overseeing the implementation of the system, said officials would upgrade the system in response to future needs.

One upgrade might involve software that could give a priority number to calls for ambulances, depending on the urgency of the cases, said Mr Kwok.