Data and strategies on emergency calls & public warning during COVID-19 outbreak

— This information was presented and discussed on a webinar on 27 March at 15h CET

Important disclaimer:

This information was collected from news and media sources and online advice from governmental services between 19 March-24 March. It has not been validated by the emergency services in each country. The situation and strategies in each country is constantly changing and we will try to update this information as much as possible. This information is intended to help emergency services in each country to learn from each other and to prepare their emergency communications services. It is not intended as a source for the general public.

If you know that the information in your country has changed or you can help us by providing information about your country, please contact Rose Michael at [email protected].

 

The strategies of emergency services to manage the COVID-19 outbreak are constantly changing. Some of the most common strategies include an increase of staff to improve the effectiveness of the line, urging the public only to call the emergency number in case of emergency, and the creation of specific websites and hotlines to answer questions about COVID-19. In order to keep emergency services across the world informed about how their counterparts are managing this outbreak and to help them to be prepared, we have put together some important information below. Please note that this is not exhaustive, and it will be updated as regularly as possible as the situation evolves.

 

Increase in volume of calls

112 emergency call centres are receiving a high volume of calls due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

Countries have also seen an increase in calls to non-emergency numbers, health information lines and dedicated COVID-19 hotlines and services:

  • In Portugal (mainland), the helpline of the Ministry of Health (SNS 24) reached a historic number of calls (13,532 calls) on 2 March shortly after confirmation of the first two cases of COVID-19 in Portugal.
  • In the United Kingdom, telephone calls to the NHS non-emergency number 111 were up by one third compared to the same time last year, with an extra 120,000 calls in the first week of March. Alongside, the 111 online service received over one million people between 4 March and 9 March, with enquiries jumping to a record high of more than 210,000 in a single day.
  • In Luxembourg, the COVID-19 hotline was called 2,300 times on March 17 only.
  • In Romania, on 20 March there were 4,950 calls to the COVID-19 information hotline in 24 hours.
  • In Greece, on 9 March, the 1135 line reported more than 15K calls in 24 hours. They also say that the call volume does not seems to reduce. On the contrary, by the end of the week the calls have significantly increased to 20K calls.

 

Strategies used to face the COVID-19 outbreak

Countries have been using various strategies to face this increase in volume of calls and the other challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

Creation of dedicated hotlines

Some countries have several hotlines according to region:

 

Increasing capacity of call centres

 

Online services

  • The United Kingdom is urging people only to call the non-emergency 111 number if they cannot access the online 111 service. An update to the 111 service was launched on 4 March to help people get quick advice about COVID-19.

 

Accessibility

  • France has provided specific indications for deaf and hard of hearing citizens in order to ensure accessibility.
  • In Italy, Rai, the national public broadcasting, created a spot for the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, to raise awareness of good daily practices that help contain the risk of infection from COVID-19. The spot was also in sign language (LIS).

 

Communication with the public

As measures taken by authorities are to be applied by everyone immediately, many countries are relying on multi-channel Public Warning Systems. Information is shared by all authorities on TVs, radios, websites, social media, dedicated apps… but some authorities have also decided to send alerts to people’s mobile phones:

  • Cell Broadcast messages have been sent to the population in Netherlands, Greece or Romania to alert them on the specific measures that were taken.
  • Even though these countries do not have for the moment any technology to geo-target localised alerts, France, Portugal and Denmark have sent a nation-wide SMS to all the population.
  • Some Public Warning apps such as KATWARN and NINA have also been used locally by some authorities in Germany or Austria to alert the population of the new instructions to follow.

Advanced Public Warning technologies also help some authorities to get better situational awareness of how many people are located in a specific area or how many nationals are still located abroad. Advanced systems can allow more geo-targeted alerts and interaction with the population.

Many web platforms (social media platforms, streaming platforms, search engines, etc.) are also assisting public authorities in relaying official messages and specific instructions to the population.

Provisions for people in quarantine

Other

 

For more detailed information on the strategies taken by each country, please consult the Appendix.

Access the Appendix here

 

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