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Leveraging 112 emergency number to curtail COVID-19 spread

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Danbatta

The global efforts channeled at fighting the spread of Coronavirus pandemic is gaining traction by the day, just as more cases of the disease is being recorded globally. Nigeria is also facing its own share of this global pandemic with federal and state governments’ frantically putting measures in place to address this emergency, which has caught the world unawares.

The lockdown and stay-at-home order of the governments across the country have led to a situation where Nigerians have become increasingly dependent on telecommunication networks. With telecoms access, Nigerians are able to keep in touch with relatives, friends and business associates to make up for the social distancing measures, which all have been directed to maintain, amid other measures at curbing the spread of the pandemic.

Consequently, with telecommunications becoming the lifeblood of economies globally, its humanitarian role during emergencies or any disaster management has become more pronounced as countries around the world grapple with various measures to tackle the pandemic.

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Today, most organisations recognised with the active participation in the communications technology area and their applications, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which proposed that “when a disaster strikes, telecommunications save lives.”

As such, telecoms regulators around the world, in collaboration with mobile operators and other critical stakeholders are also evolving major initiative to effectively deploying telecoms in managing any life-threatening disaster or emergency situation.

It is, therefore, instructive that the efforts by the Federal Government to contain the rampaging coronavirus pandemic are being complemented by the establishment of an ICT-driven Emergency Communications Centre (ECC) to manage the 112 National Emergency Number 112 by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Curtailing coronavirus, other emergencies
With the 112 Emergency Number, Nigerians are able to call emergency response agencies/or first responders with respect to any issue they may want to report on the coronavirus or other health-related issues and emergencies.

Leveraging the 112 Number by Nigerians will help to complement other efforts put in place by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) with respect of reporting cases of the pandemic and other emergencies that may arise at this time of lockdown which could be in terms or robbery, road accident, fire outbreaks of areas and markets places that are now desolate due to shutdown of commercial activities

Already, states and federal government agencies are leveraging the 112 National Emergency Number, whose calls are handled through the Emergency Communication Centre (ECC) established by the Commission across the country.

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The ECC project is the brainchild of NCC to enable easy communication by Nigerians with emergency first responders such as Police, Fire Service, Federal Road Safety Corps, and National Orientation Agency (NOA) among others, by dialing the three-digit toll-free Number 112.

ECC project execution
Going down the memory lane, The Guardian check showed that in line with the decision of the Federal Government to enhance security of lives and properties in the country; and in apparent response to public demand, the National Assembly, in 2003, enacted the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003.

Ihekweazu, NCDC

In Section 107 (3) (a) & (b) of that Act, the NCC is expressly mandated to take immediate steps upon the commencement of the Act to promote and enhance public safety through the use of a particular number which shall be designed as the universal safety and emergency assistance number for telephone services generally; and encourage and facilitate the prompt deployment throughout Nigeria of seamless, ubiquitous and reliable end-to-end infrastructure for emergency communications needs.

However, while the ECC project execution has dragged on for years without much progress, the effectual implementation of the project started when the current Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, assumed office as the country chief telecoms regulator in August 2015.

On assuming office in 2015, Danbatta, consolidated on the various efforts already made by his predecessors at NCC to ensure that mechanisms were put in place to ensure deployment of the ECC across the country.

Speaking on his motivation at a programme in Abuja last year, Danbatta explained that his move to bring the project to fruition was informed by his recognition of the agenda of the Federal Government to improving the general security for all citizens. “We, therefore, put concrete machinery in place to accelerate the implementation of ECC across the country and we are happy that most states and FCT now have their ECC,” he stated at a forum.

ECC-operational states
To date, 17 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) now have their ECC, with its operational 112 toll-free emergency number, available to the citizens to leverage in case of any emergencies or disasters.

It was gathered that aside FCT, beneficiary states of the ECC include Benue, Kwara, Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Imo, Enugu, Anambra and Adamawa.

Indeed, the 112 National Emergency Number is fully available in all the aforementioned states and FCT and can be leveraged by Nigerians, as an alternate number to reach first responders at this period of COVID-19 when seeking help and assistance from applicable government response agency during emergencies.

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Already, the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, identified the centrality of the 112 number towards handling citizens’ calls for help in this time of coronavirus pandemic.

Obaseki, in a state-wide broadcast to sensitise the people of the state on the epidemic, specifically urged the people of Edo State to take advantage of 112 three-digit, toll-free number to get help from response agencies in case they want to pass critical information to the government and the State Task Force on COVID-19.

The Guardian, however, learnt that efforts are ongoing by the Commission to deploy the ECC facility in other states of the Federation.

National import of 112 Emergency Number
The full national significance of the NCC’s ECC/112 Number was amplified by President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 19, 2020, when he unveiled the Abuja ECC facility and flagged off the 112 National Emergency Number during the commissioning of the NCC’s Communications and Digital Economy Complex at the Mbora District of Abuja.

Addressing the audience during the event, the President explained that the 112 Number demonstrates his administration’s resolve to keep Nigerians safe. “We have taken advantage of digital technologies to ensure that Nigerians in distress are only a dial away from the relevant emergency response institutions in the country via the 112 Number,” he said.

According to him, the NCC’s 112 National Emergency Number will go a long way in supporting our efforts to improve the security of lives and property. He further that “with coronavirus spreading across the globe and more people living in isolation, the NCC’s 112 Number is providing alternatives for people to stay in touch and institutions to provide the needed basic life-saving services to the populace.”

ECCs facilities
Checks by The Guardian showed that each of the 18 ECCs is equipped with among other things 11 workstations (10 for call taking and one for the Supervisor); a server system that receives and processes 112-calls from members of the public and then dispatches the calls to the appropriate Agency that has responsibility to attend to the specific emergency; and power supply mix consisting of public power supply from the national grid, two units of 100KVA generators.

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The facilities also include two units of 20KVA UPS powered by 160 units of 100AH inverter batteries and a 10KVA UPS powered by 16 units of 100AH inverter batteries; and the facility is also equipped with six dispatch workstations for the response agencies.

Handling COVID-19-related calls
To ensure ECC is being managed in effectively handling COVID-19-related calls at this pandemic time, Danbatta at the weekend paid unscheduled visits to the ECC in Kano and Kaduna.

Danbatta’s said his visits were informed by his realisation that, with coronavirus spreading across the globe and more people living in isolation, the NCC’s 112 toll-free number could play a crucial role of providing effective alternatives for people to reach out to relevant agencies with a view to securing help in times of emergency.

During the visits to the two centres, Danbatta had interactions with the personnel on ground, as he asked them various questions bordering on the in-coming call traffic volume and how the calls are effectively dispatched to various emergency response agencies (ERA) connected to the centres for prompt response, especially the NCDC.

The EVC urged the personnel on duty at the two ECCs to see their work more as a national assignment which involve saving the lives of fellow Nigerians who may be in any emergency.

“As you aware, the country is in a lockdown. I, therefore, enjoin you to always ensure you don’t miss any call that comes into the centre. You will also be expected to ensure prompt dispatch of calls received to the relevant emergency response agencies,” Danbatta urged the personnel.

Speaking further, the NCC boss advised the personnel on the importance of observing sanitary measures like frequent hand washing and keeping social distancing at the centres.

In both Kaduna and Kano centres, the managers told the EVC that they had been receiving coronavirus-related calls.

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