Creating a 911 system for Chennai (and other Indian cities)

When I went to the US, more than the infrastructure and the conveniences, what attracted me was the ability with which information was quickly shared/disseminated on anything, whether it was an accident on the road, an incident involving injury at home or even news on the networks on escaped convicts, traffic congestions, chemical spills in an area, weather, general advisories on safety etc. and the system that has pulled together most of these has been the 911 emergency response line.

In simple words, all anyone has to do to summon help for himself/herself or on behalf of someone else is to call the numbers 9-1-1 from any phone – landline, mobile or pay (this call being free to make). While the response is local 99% of the time unless it needs Federal agencies to react first, the call is handled by a team of emergency response messaging operators at the city or town level (most commonly at the county level) but sometimes at the state level.

911 has become a routinely used service and has saved many lives in America. Even kids at home know the number and have called in many instances where the operator, having known the location thru the landline number identification system, has sent paramedics/firefighters/police in time that has saved the lives of the parents and/or other children in the house.

During my road travels in and around Chennai over the last couple of weeks, the thought struck me as to why not India too have such a system where all anyone has to remember is three digits to call in the event of any emergency, most notably road accidents for which our roads are infamous. I recall seeing some emergency numbers to dial for accidents but if my memory serves me right, they were either longish numbers that could not be easily remembered or were numbers that would only call the paramedics from a few city hospitals. Nothing like the convenience, ease of use and rapid response based on a central repository (database, if you will) that the 911 system offers in the US.

Implementing this system city-wise in India is a far better solution than proposing a “national” emergency response system due to the inherent complexity in evolving such huge systems in a country as diverse as India in languages, culture and more. That is why I thought of Chennai as not only the ideal city but the model one too since the citizenry here IMO has those very qualities that would make this system a great success. What do you think?

9 Comments so far

  1. Anand (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 1:57 pm

    Well Mukund, to be fair, it is high time a coordinate emergency response team is created, as things stand, 100, 101, and 102 are used all over India to summon the police, the fire and rescue and the ambulance service separately. I did read about a private initiative on the same lines proposed for Bombay after last-year’s floods. But from what I’ve seen, the whole system needs to be upgraded, not just the telephone desk. It is an important topic to discuss for Chennai. I wonder if there is any data available or published about the currect emergency services response in Chennai.


  2. RG (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 2:53 pm

    Making a grand reappearance on Chennai Metroblog? Good post Thennavan. I have also wondered about this having known about such systems in other countries.


  3. Anandkumar (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 5:17 pm

    Why sardars can’t dial 911 in an emergency?
    B’coz they can’t find the number 11 on the telephone


  4. desaraju (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 7:24 pm

    i dont think it is as simple as you put it. first of all roads shud be widened so that the traffic can make way for the emergency vehicles on call. expanding roads in chennai is as difficult as tendulkar winning a match for india :-)


  5. KVB (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 8:05 pm

    As other member in the comment mentioned, it is not only the Emergency Response need to be improved, the whole of related systems need to be addressed like Road Condition, Emergency Vehicle Services, Traffic Regulation, etc. But it is not impossible. Need proper planning and whole hearted interest from Government to do something useful to all quarters of People. It is also implement in other countries like Russia, Europe, etc.


  6. david (unregistered) on June 13th, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

    yes mukund, its about time we had a system like this in place.chennai was the first city to have a well co-ordinated ambulance syatem in trauma care. we could certainly pioneer a system like this to be followed by the rest of the country. the state of our traffic certainly demands it!


  7. ranjit (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

    Hi Mukund,
    Such a system has been started by Satyam Computers in Hyderabad under it’s corporate social responsibility arm. The number is 108 and they are calling it EMRI (Emergency mgmt research Institute).Some 34 crores have been invested into this by Mr Ramalinga Raju and they have well equipped ambulances and emergency vehicles fitted with Global positioning systems stationed at various places linked to a command center.The nearest ambulance is identified and its directed to the emergency location.


  8. desaraju (unregistered) on June 14th, 2006 @ 7:39 pm

    and i hope…they dont put a Ambulance Sticker on Maruthi Van and have couple of white dressed blokes with nothing but a stetcher. :-)


  9. thennavan (unregistered) on June 15th, 2006 @ 2:01 am

    Anand, thanks for the details and I am also looking forward to some authentic data on any such initiative that has already been undertaken in Chennai. After all, no one wants to reinvent the wheel but if the existing system has not been a well thought-out one, then we definitely need something on the lines of 911 since it is a proven system and again, no need to reinvent the wheel :-).

    Thanks for chipping in RG :-).

    Anandkumar :-).

    Desaraju (for both your comments), you seem to have the most apt examples to give :-).

    KVB, agreed that it is not just one piece of the puzzle that needs to be solved but a whole gamut of things that have to be brought together to make such a system work :-).

    David, good point about the pioneering stuff undertaken by Chennai before. I believe in this city and the people. Together they can do wonders :-).

    Ranjit, thanks for that info on Satyam. So that means as with everything else, here too we need private sector initiative to get the ball rolling :-).



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