Two nights ago on this newscast we related an experience where our Monica Bodden called 9-1-1 and they hung up on her. She was reporting a threat of gunplay at a home where she was on assignment at 40 Faber's Road Extension. That's the same place where there had been a double murder a few days earlier.

And that's just our story. For the past few days on the radio - many more serious criticisms of the service have surfaced leading an already wary public to doubt whether their calls to 911 will go unanswered or whether they will be hung up on in a moment of life and death. Jim McFadzean stopped by the offices of the 911 National Emergency System to find out how the system works. We weren't allowed to videotape the operators, but we were made to understand the challenges they face:....

The three digits that have become the lifeline for citizens caught in an emergency, have come under fire recently, placing into question the integrity and reliability of the service. With limited training and a somewhat archaic system still in place, the 911 system seems to be in need of its own lifeline.

Ret'd. Sr. Supt. Yolanda Murray, Manager, Communications Dept.
"There is always room for improvement. we have a 911 which works, however it would still be better if we have a 911 system where everything can be recorded, like every call can be recorded like what we have in foreign countries."

And so with that comment on the current status of Belize's 911 system, the distinguished lady at the helm, Retired Senior Superintendent of Police, Yolanda Murray, says the system still delivers, albeit, not at the capacity she would like to see it at.

Jim McFadzean
"What type of training do your operators/dispatchers receive to manage these type of calls 911 emergency calls?"

Ret'd. Sr. Supt. Yolanda Murray
"They are train in customer service. We did that because we know that they must have training on how to deal with the public whenever they call. So they have had training in customer service. Just about 2 or 3 weeks ago 4 of my operators did some first aid training. This is something that will continue. i will be reaching out to the Red Cross to get more training. The training that those 4 have gotten is still not adequate to what we would like because it was just a full day training. I know that they will definitely need more training so that they would be able to advise persons when there is an accident or there is something major that happens that they can give some advice until the ambulances reaches there. I know that most police or all police officers who are at scenes do get first aid training whilst they are in training. So those officers when they arrive at the scene should be able to assist whilst they are out there."

Jim McFadzean
"As it stands now what would you say is the greatest threat or poses the greatest threat to the system in general?"

Ret'd. Sr. Supt. Yolanda Murray
"What I find now happens is that everybody want to be calling the 911 for everything. I don't know if people are trying to save a buck or whatever. But people very rare call the 227-2222 or 227-2223 to make a report and leave the lines open for the emergency calls. We get over 2,000 prank calls each month. There were times when it goes all the way up to 3,000 prank calls. We know that for sure because we record them, we have a form where we record all the prank calls that come in and we count them at the ending of the month. So we know the amount of prank calls that we get."

Jim McFadzean
"Superintendent I can't leave here without asking you about the incident that involves one of our reporters who was caught up in an emergency situation dials 911 and was hung up on. Have you had a chance to review that situation?"

Ret'd. Sr. Supt. Yolanda Murray
"Jim I did not hear that on the news because I can't listen to all the news at the same time but I heard about yesterday evening and so I call Monica this morning personally and I spoke to her about this matter. Jim our operators work extremely hard. We try for them to behave as professional as possible because that is what is expected of them. I know they are not perfect people and there are times when in every department people falter. This could be a life and death situation so we would expect that they are no flaws at all when answering calls. If I had know it's like earlier I could have probably trace back who was the operator responsible at the time. After certain amount of days it is impossible for me to trace back the operator, but I can trace back the team."

And Murray has one very important request from those who must dial 911.

Ret'd. Sr. Supt. Yolanda Murray
"Please stay on the line so that we can get enough information from you. There are times we want the description of suspects, descriptions of vehicles, we need to know like in certain cases how many people are injured so that we can pass the appropriate information to BERT ambulance and so we ask people to stay on the line. There are lots of streets in Belize City, quite a lot that do not have any names. We try to get description of a house and maybe the area where there is some marking like a church near it or maybe there is a school near it where we can easily find you. But in some cases there are no markers."

Reporting for Seven News, I'm Jim McFadzean.

Murray says she recently worked with Telemedia in giving the system somewhat of an upgrade. As it stands now, all 7 districts, including San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Ladyville now have their own set of 911 operators. Murray says she is also working with the Belize Institute of Management this year to provide training to staff in Stress Management.

Channel 7