Sitting at his desk with headphones on, (999) helpline operator Anik Sen heard a baby’s cry just after pressing the receive button to answer a distress call.
“Someone could be in danger,” he thought immediately, but his concern faded when he heard a woman on the other side asking the baby to stop crying and talk on the phone.
Stunned, Anik asked the reason for the call. “I called to calm my baby down,” she replied, rather nonchalantly.
Shocking as it may seem, this is not an isolated incident, as hotline operators face such calls every day. They called this one of the biggest obstacles to providing support to people in real distress.
About 67.44% of calls made from December 2017 to January this year were either blank calls, prank calls, missed calls, test calls or repeat calls, according to National Helpline Center sources.
For the helpline operators, the job is even more stressful.
“A few days ago, as soon as I received a call, the caller said ‘Apu, I want to marry you’ and started laughing…”, says Tasnia Akhter, an operator at 999 .
Sometimes callers even throw abusive words at us, she added.
The first two responders to the helpline – an integrated police, fire and ambulance service – said the high number of such “wacky calls” creates unnecessary congestion in the system and ultimately deprives those who have really need the service.
They said teenagers are the biggest abusers of the service.
“Sometimes teenagers call and say there’s a fire somewhere, which later turns out to be a hoax. To make matters worse, sometimes they just keep calling, seven to eight times in a few minutes, blocking the lines,” Tasnie said.
Center officials said they received around 1.64 lakh calls from teenagers in 2020, which rose to 2.35 lakh last year.
They blamed people’s lack of awareness on the sensitivity of the service.
Many people even call the hotline to complain about rising prices of basic necessities, to get information on Covid-19 vaccines and to ask for help with a problem with their mobile phone, officials said. emergency service center.
Last year, a law was enacted to take legal action against such abusers through mobile courts, but no one has yet been punished.
At the same time, officials said they were reluctant to take punitive action against such callers, fearing it would discourage people from making calls for help.
Instead, they sometimes block the numbers of these disruptive callers for a period of time.
When contacted, Mohammad Tabarak Ullah, head of the 999 service unit, told the Daily Star: “Such calls embarrass our first responders to real life emergencies.”
999 is a free helpline number that allows citizens in difficulty to call and seek police assistance. Citizens can avail of a number of services through this helpline, including assistance with any type of crime, accident, kidnapping, fire, and ambulance call.
Since its creation on December 10, 2017 until January 31, the national emergency service has received more than 3.53 million calls.