Phone system leads to accident response delay

Rosemary Arnold waited in pain after a car crash at Port Fairy on Sunday while helpers struggled to identify the accident location with triple-0 emergency call-takers.
Rosemary Arnold waited in pain after a car crash at Port Fairy on Sunday while helpers struggled to identify the accident location with triple-0 emergency call-takers.

A PORT Fairy road smash where Premier Denis Napthine comforted the victim has highlighted serious shortfalls in telecommunications and mapping in identifying emergency locations.

It took 95 seconds of tense conversations between the victim, bystanders and a call taker in the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA) for the accident site to be determined and another 54 seconds to despatch emergency vehicles. The ambulance arrived 12 minutes later.

The callers explained by mobile phone they were outside the Port Fairy airstrip and near the golf club, but they did not realise the road known locally as golf club road, or Woodbine Road, was in fact Skenes Road on the ESTA mapping system.

Even the VicRoads atlas incorrectly describes it as Griffiths Street. 

The ESTA call-taker eventually determined the road name by consulting a computer mapping system which uses information from Moyne Shire Council and Department of Environment and Primary Industry.

Rosemary Arnold told The Standard yesterday she was badly dazed and in intense pain when she rang while confined to the front seat of her damaged vehicle on Sunday afternoon.

“They even asked me the name of the airstrip,” she said yesterday while nursing extensive bruising and pain to her back and hands.

“Most locals wouldn’t know this as Skenes Road.

“I finished up handing my phone out the window to another person and I think it was the policeman who eventually got the right location through.” 

Ms Arnold’s car was hit from behind by a passing vehicle, shunting her into a grassed area adjacent to the airstrip. She received back injuries and was treated at the scene by paramedics before being taken to Warrnambool Base Hospital and later sent home.

Dr Napthine happened to be passing and climbed into her rear seat to hold her head still until paramedics removed her.

“He may be a horse doctor, but he’ll do me any day of the week,” the 80-year-old Port Fairy resident said.

“Then he took time later to check on my recovery.”

ESTA said it had campaigned unsuccessfully for years to get telcos to install technology that would identify the location of mobile phones via GPS, similar to what is used in Europe and North America.

“We cannot send an emergency response if we don’t know where the caller is,” an ESTA spokeswoman said.

“And callers can get frustrated when they want urgent help, but have to describe an accurate location first or wait while the call-taker users other means.

“There is no unilateral agreement among carriers on the best way to provide the technology.”

The authority last month presented a priority paper to a national multi-level committee meeting calling for a fully automatic and accurate mobile location system.

Ambulance Victoria said it too would welcome new technology that would improve the ability to quickly and correctly locate people needing help.

“While the locations of triple-0 calls made from landlines are readily available to ESTA call-takers, many calls for ambulances are made from mobile phones,” regional manager Simon Thomson said.

Telstra was asked to comment, but did not have a reply by The Standard’s deadline.


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