There are more calls to decentralise the administration of MERS999 by establishing emergency service response centres in every State, instead.
Wisdom Foundation research manager Freeda Jane Madius said an emergency system must ensure quick access to help. She said on paper, calling 999, MERS999 assures the caller that they would be attended to within 20 seconds.
However, in reality, the three response centres, located in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, and Kuching, responsible for these emergencies are overburdened by thousands of calls with records of up to 36,500 calls received per day back in 2018.
“Of these calls, 5.8 per cent are non-emergency, making the task to locate and verify actual emergencies a bigger mountain to climb.
“Although MERS999 introduced the SaveMe999 app in 2013 to provide an alternate access to emergency agencies, this programme, although established with good intentions, is clearly flawed.
“The app may not be useful to certain members of society who do not have access to smartphones or a working internet connection,” she said.
She added, this is particularly obvious in Sabah where the incidence of absolute poverty is 25.3 per cent in 2020, implying that potentially one in four Sabahans will not have access to alternate forms of contacting help during an emergency.
“As a result, we always go back to the classic emergency call, a method which does not require any phone line or Internet,” she said.
At 2.48am on Tuesday, a distressed emergency call was made from Taman Hungab, Penampang, Sabah via 999 seeking help from the Fire and Rescue Department to extinguish a fire in their neighbour’s house.
Unfortunately, miscommunication caused precious minutes to be wasted in the verification and detection of the location of the fire causing a family of four to perish while neighbours could only look on helplessly as fires were only brought under control at 3.40am.
“Although the setting up of response centres will be an additional cost to the country’s budget, we must recall the fundamental human right to life in policymaking and service allocation,” she said.
“The Government needs to be strategic in placing these response centres to ensure they can tend to a large region and to take note of the different geography encountered, such as the hilly terrain in Sabah.”
In 2008, MERS999 introduced standard operating procedures (SOPs) which connected the then population of 27.24 million Malaysians with five agencies – the Royal Malaysian Police, Fire and Rescue Department, Health Ministry (MOH), Civil Defence Department, and Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
The objective of MERS999 is to make security and safety more accessible for the nation with the concept ‘1Malaysia 1Number’ by consolidating emergency numbers into a single convenient number, 999. -DE