On a dog day noon, Gabinda Chandra Das, a call-taker at the National Emergency Service Centre (NESC) in Dhaka, picked up his 141st call for the day in his six-hour shift. The caller was from Shariatpur district. The male voice anxiously sought a quick response from the civil defense on witnessing a child drowning in a pond.
Gabinda instantly traced the spot using the digital database and informed the nearest Fire Brigade and Civil Defense office accordingly. Half an hour later, he heard the good news he was waiting for. The child had been rescued unconscious.
The NESC call number 999, initially meant for emergency police, ambulance, fire protection and civil defense services, has rapidly gained popularity. It received 1.05 crore calls in only 18 months since its inception in 2017. The service center is mainly a communication platform under the direct supervision of the inspector general of police.
Anisul Haque Mridha, the Assistant Superintendent of Police at NESC, recalls the incident of a father in Chuadanga district who dialed 999 after his daughter was abducted by a stalker and trafficked to India. Using available local contacts, the NESC succeeded in repatriating the girl within a week.
"One night, a man asked for help because his sister was attempting suicide in her room, which was locked from the inside. We informed the local police. With their quick intervention, the suicide attempt was averted," Mridha recalled.
On June 18, after a tip-off call to 999, Rajbari police seized illegal arms and drugs from a criminals' den at Baliakandi upazila.
NESC covers emergency services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At present, 405 police personnel, nine fire fighters and five health emergency responders work at the NESC in three shifts.
Housed on two floors in a seven-storied building at the Dhaka Metropolitan Police command center, the work floor of the NESC resembles a huge and busy call center with 100 staff glued to computer screens, picking-up distress calls from all over the country. All the necessary data including geographical maps and telephone directories are built into the computer systems. They respond randomly to beeps on their headphones, and connect the caller to the relevant service providers.
Any successful execution of an emergency service brings joy to the team. Sometimes the response falls beyond their capacity.
Last year in October, a Chattogram-based garment worker dialed 999 at night. The worker was being stalked by four abusers as she was on her way home from work. NESC dispatchers communicated with the Karnaphuli Police Station, which rushed a team to the location. But they found that her cell phone had been switched off. Her attackers had snatched the phone and snapped the call after sensing that the victim was seeking police help.
'Please save my life'¬-was her last cry.
After searching for the girl in and around the area for half an hour, police finally found her, injured and raped.
Anisul recalls, "One of the rapists was arrested. But we were only minutes away from saving the distressed caller."
In many instances NESC staff cannot dispatch calls quickly enough because of limitations in their capacity.
NESC call-taker Gobinda said, "The number of public ambulances is inadequate. We need to depend on private services which are often too busy. In case of delay, distraught callers blame us for irregularities."
Sometimes service seekers find 999 engaged despite repeated dials. This is because the NESC can respond to only 100 calls at a time.
"We get lots of trivial calls that overcrowd the toll-free telephone network. Mother struggling to feed her toddler or people searching for contact numbers dial 999. In such cases we direct them to a suitable source of help", Anisul says.
Moreover, there are prank calls. As of May 31, 2019, the NESC received 84 lac crank, prank and other calls, on which no service was provided.
"Sometimes prank callers use abusive words. Being trained professionals, the call-takers never express anger. They only cut the call and block the number to avoid further dials", Anisul says.
Superintendent of Police at NESC, Tobarak Ullah, urges people to dial 999 only for emergency service.
"The more sincerely people use 999, the more people can get emergency services," he concludes.
• First in the world, Britain introduced 999 as emergency number in June 30, 1937.
• US uses 911, as emergency dial.
• Besides Bangladesh 999 is used by more than 20 countries as emergency numbers
• 999 introduced in Bangladesh: December 12, 2017
• Calls received till May 31, 2019: 10,535,113