Challenges GVK EMRI’s 108 faced combating COVID-19 in Meghalaya

Shillong, Apr 25: GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute’s contribution in Meghalaya’s fight against COVID-19 is indisputable. From registering secondary contacts, contact tracing through their emergency call number 108, monitoring travel history of patients and more, they have played their part, albeit with several challenges.

Deepankar Choudhury, GVK EMRI State Head spoke to Shillong Mail regarding challenges their emergency helpline number 108 faced; as the country and the state began facing the brunt of the virus.

The First Surge

GVK EMRI’s 108 was designated as a state control room around mid-March to enable registration of Meghalaya citizens who were returning home from different states and countries. “We saw a huge surge of calls, and you might have seen reports going around 108 is ringing no one is responding,” Choudhury said.

Choudhury explained that their 108 call centre is 24 seater, of which 20 decks are activated and 4 decks kept for IT backup and support. The centre operates through Primary Interface Lines, each line has 30 channels, which means 30 calls can land at the same time. “2 lines means 60, 30 for incoming and 30 for outgoing,” he said.

However he added, “With just 20 decks operational, when the 21st call lands at the same time when all the decks are busy, the person calling will hear a ringtone that is where people think 108 is not working, it is not actually that.”

Another challenge the emergency service faced was the lack of manpower. In a normal shift, there were 3 people handling 250-300 calls. To fill this gap, through the government, they were able get civil defence volunteers as well as the trainee nurses volunteering to work and support the call centre operation.

He revealed that from March 16th to March 31st, the call centre received 10,123 calls out of which they were able to answer 9942 calls. “We handled the issue efficiently, there were 200 odd number of calls that we missed in the 15 day period,” he said.

Choudhury also said that they were being monitored at Commissioner Secretary Level, and at the Chief Minister’s level and all their calls went through.

“But beyond a certain capacity, it is difficult for us to handle if his system is not upgraded. Until and unless we upgrade the system we cannot handle more then what the current capacity is,” he stressed.

The Second Surge

On April 13th, the first positive Corona Virus case was recorded in Meghalaya. “Our call centre and number 108 was again notified for people who have visited Bethany to call us and register themselves so there also we saw a huge surge in the calls,” Deepankar Choudhury, GVK EMRI State Head said.

Coping with this new challenge was difficult for the call centre. “We received close to 500-600 calls landing at the same given time, beyond 20 we cannot take that call,” Choudhury informed.

“We were of course one of the source that was taking the calls, we had 1070 also, but their capacity is even lesser than us. Plus there was online registrations, google form which one could fill and submit, so these were all the other options that were there,” he added.

Another issue for the call centre was the surge in calls due to the panic that set in, following the report of the first positive case. “We could see people who had actually gone near Bethany to buy vegetables or around that surrounding also started calling,” Choudhury said.

He informed that between April 1st and April 23rd, they received around 11869 calls, out of which they responded to 11327 calls. “We registered 3139 people who had called who had gone to Bethany Hospital or been in that surrounding,” he said.

Choudhury informed that in the last 2-3 days they received 600-650 calls. On a normal day, they handled 40-45 cases, while now they handle twice the amount. 

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