New Zealand’s outdated 111 emergency call system is causing deaths and injuries due to its antiquity, slowness, and fragmentation, police documents have revealed.
Despite being warned a year ago about the system’s deficiencies, the Labour government abandoned a project to replace it.
The 25-year-old system lacks the capability to handle text or video calls, integrate with social media platforms, or ensure seamless app integration, which has had fatal consequences in some instances. For example, a woman was unable to silently alert police of danger, leading to her being stabbed to death, and there were cases of delayed emergency response due to the system’s inefficiencies.
The need for an urgent replacement was highlighted in documents released under the Official Information Act, stating both police and Fire and Emergency have been advocating for a modern solution. Police Minister Mark Mitchell, acknowledged the issue, noting the underfunding of core police functions by the previous government and expressed commitment to finding solutions.
Illustrating the system’s failures, an article in state-backed media outlet RNZ recounted numerous incidents where the fragmented system led to unnecessary deaths and danger to both the public and emergency responders. It has been prone to breakdowns, with 59 instances in the year 2021-22, including a fault that remained unresolved for 20 days.
Despite these challenges, the police have made some improvements in security and patching of the Computer Aided Dispatch component, aiming to minimise human error within the system’s limitations. A planned $1.4 billion upgrade to the Public Safety Network is intended to ensure emergency services remain connected during power or cellular outages, suggesting a modernised Card system could integrate with this infrastructure for improved emergency response.
The necessity for a comprehensive overhaul is further underscored by the system’s failure to accurately locate emergency situations, compounded by the inability to effectively integrate across different emergency services.
Despite the clear need and detailed planning for a new system, fiscal constraints and competing pressures led to the shelving of the project by Labour. However, the police maintain that investment in a replacement system is under active consideration to ensure the safety and well-being of New Zealanders.
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