GT&T denies technical defects in 911 system

– says missing handsets, unanswered calls frequent at stations

The Guyana Telephone   and Telegraph Company (GT&T) yesterday denied that technical issues were to blame for problems dogging the 911 emergency system, while revealing that its own checks revealed that missing handsets and unresponsive personnel during standard working hours at police stations were frequent occurrences.

The company’s issued its defence in a statement yesterday in response to a claim by PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee earlier in the day that the landline service provider must take responsibility for calls not being connected.

“GT&T are not accepting any responsibility or any blame/fault on their part for the 911 number or calls not going through to the police station or where they ought to be received—because I have heard many persons tell me, and these are people I consider to be credible persons, they would call 911 and they would hear the ringtone in the phone they are using but someone sitting on the other side… there is no number ringing there,” Rohee stated at a press conference at Freedom House yesterday.

He said he had first-hand experience of seeing police ranks sitting by the phone awaiting a call that never came through. He said that this could only be a sign of a technical problem, which was the responsibility of GT&T.

Rohee said that GT&T would have to explain.

In a statement released shortly after by GT&T, the company said the “unresponsiveness of the 911 personnel” had nothing to do with the company. “Our checks have revealed that the following occur with great frequency (a) the disappearance of handsets from the termination points of 911 lines at various Police Stations; (b) the removal of the handset off the hook; (c) no answer by personnel during standard working hours,” it noted.

“For simplicity, it is not within our control who answers the 911 phone. GT&T’s responsibility begins and ends with ensuring access by all subscribers to the assigned 911 fixed service lines and ensuring maintenance of this access as a priority,” it added, while recommending a full investigation be done.

“GT&T values the excellent working relationship that GT&T has with the Ministry of Home Affairs through the Guyana Police Force and would therefore wish for this important national security matter to be addressed from a facts based perspective as opposed to apparent innuendo, misconceptions and false conclusions, which we presume have been erroneously supplied to the Honourable Minister, resulting in today’s public release which has potential for public anxiety,” it said.

The company’s statement revealed that earlier this year it consulted with the minister to upgrade the national emergency system, inclusive of police, fire and ambulance services. GT&T stated that it was “essentially data gathering sessions” and it had not been privy to the results but added that it would be surprised if consultants identified “technical faults” as being responsible for 911 calls being unanswered.

In March, Rohee revealed that a US$20,000 consultancy contract was signed to review the 911 service. He said, “The complaints were numerous and therefore we couldn’t just sit on our hands and do nothing about it. Apparently we don’t have the capacity… at the national level to correct this deficiency and so I thought it was necessary to bring persons from outside.” He had stated that he was “fed up” of the “poor performance” and that measures needed to be taken to revamp the current system.

GT&T stated that after meeting with the GPF in 2005, a decision was made for each district to be equipped with a 911 service which operated “like any other landline/fixed service provided by GT&T.” It said that after the meeting, the GPF requested that 911 be answered at various stations to aid the police’s response time. As a result, every district is equipped with a 911 line with the exception of Georgetown and New Amsterdam, which have four lines each. As for cell calls, it said, they are all answered at Brickdam and during the weekly checks GT&T has not found any technical issues with the lines’ functionality.

Members of the public have complained for years about the 911 system and most of the complaints have been about personnel assigned to work the post failing to answer the calls. Recently, during a robbery that occurred around the corner from the Kitty Police Station, victims said that calls were made to 911 but there was no response.

Many have pointed out that 912, the emergency number for the Guyana Fire Service, is answered without fail, raising questions as to why only the 911 lines experience such a high volume of “technical issues” as stated by Rohee.

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