111 call failures between emergency services exposed

Ambulances were called to a fatal fire by phone last month after a 111-link between police, fire and ambulance failed.

And it’s far from the only time.

Figures show the 111 emergency call system has been frequently breaking down between police, fire and ambulance.

111 calls straight to ambulance were not the problem – though ambulances’ own Card systems were outdated too, a police report said – but where multiple services might be needed, those calls went to police, then were shared.

The problems were mostly with the link – called intercad – used to raise the alarm with the two ambulance services, St John and Wellington Free.

A police spreadsheet had recent entries saying the ambulance link was “failing every 2 minutes” and that there were weeks of problems early this year.

Police said they made a repair in March which reduced problems.

Hillpark fatal house fire

However, just last month another communications breakdown delayed an ambulance getting to a fatal house fire in Auckland.

FENZ said when there was an intercad outage its system highlighted the failure and prompted comms centre staff “to phone ambulance if that’s required”.

At the Hillpark fire in May, firefighters got there within minutes, but when intercad failed the ambulance had to be alerted by phone.

This caused a delay in advising ambulance staff of any injuries. Two men died in the fire, while a third was seriously injured.

The police called these “momentary lapses” and said when they occurred “direct dial phone calls between the emergency centres are made instead”.

“Every effort is made for these communications to be timely, to help ensure no increased risk to victims.”

‘The seconds count’

Wellington union president and FENZ communications centre shift manager Carlos Dempsey said it was common to not realise the ambulance link was down.

“Either one of my colleagues from another service [or within FENZ] lets me know… or we’re in the middle of trying to complete our task and it’s not working.”

The longstanding and recurring tech problems were delaying responses, he said.

“The seconds count and we’re finding we’re adding a few too many seconds together sometimes. It’s not ideal and we’re constantly having to rely on the back-up means.

“A common thing you’ll hear is, say: ‘I’ve gone down, I’ve lost part of my system’, and someone else will have to take that… maybe radios, or maybe phones.”

Dempsey said he was not personally aware of any deaths or injuries as a direct result of the intercad failings.

But he said it put extra stress on the emergency comms teams.

He hoped a recent move to make a warning about intercad problems stand out more on computer screens would help.

No replacement in sight

An in-depth police report released to RNZ earlier detailed how the inadequacies had jeopardised people’s lives and safety.

Staff said police and fire’s system, also called Card, and the ambulance link kept being patched up to keep them going.

And there was no replacement in sight.

Police got as far as making a Budget bid last year after spending $1.3m on a business case for replacing the whole system. This would have integrated ambulance for the first time.

The business case charted a host of shortcomings, including: “There is also a lack of sufficient interoperability between the current Ambulance CAD solution and the differing Police/FENZ solution.”

The 2023 Budget bid failed.

Working together

The Police Association said the major concern was the different systems.

“Obviously, it would be ideal to share the same system which would make everything more streamlined and a better outcome for the communities where all services know and can see what is happening in the area,” it said.

“We have got to the point that the cost to maintain our current Card system will grow.”

FENZ said it was pursuing options to improve interoperability between agencies “which will result in sharing intelligence more quickly”.

“Fire and Emergency New Zealand is always concerned about responder and public safety,” it said.

Wellington Free Ambulance said it acknowledged the importance of having a “reliable and fit-for-purpose multi-agency 111 emergency system to ensure the safety of New Zealanders”.

When there were connection issues, “a range of solutions and fixes have been used to ensure patient safety is not compromised”.

It backed the development of any new tech or infrastructure to improve agencies’ response.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button