Emergency contact centre opens

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 22 Nov 2007

Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa has opened a R50 million provincial emergency contact centre, in Midrand. It is a stone`s throw away from the provincial police`s R600 million 10111 centre, opened by president Thabo Mbeki earlier this month.

Where the 10111 centre handles calls for police assistance, the Gauteng Provincial Disaster Management Centre and its twin, the Gauteng Emergency Medical Control Centre, will tackle other contingencies.

Speaking at a ceremony yesterday, at the offices of Continuity SA where the centre is located, Shilowa said the new hi-tech centres would save lives through better coordination and communication. He said they would "go a long way in reducing disasters from happening".

Shilowa added that the centre will play a role in the preparation for and hosting of the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 and the World Cup the year after.

"Dealing with disaster is not about putting up a massive centre, but it is all about how the centre responds effectively to the challenges as and when they happen."

Future upgrade plans for the centres include transversal integration with the police 10111 centre and also with the national Department of Communications` 112 emergency contact centre infrastructure when that is rolled out. The centres will, for now, be contactable through the existing 10177 number.

Saving lives

Local government MEC Qedani Dorothy Mahlangu said the Gauteng Provincial Disaster Management Centre will play an important role in coordinating key projects, such as the forthcoming 2010 World Cup and the Gautrain.

"The centre must be able to respond adequately as and when disaster strikes, to ensure we don`t lose the lives of our people in Gauteng. It will also play a crucial role in saving many lives, particular in informal settlements during shack fires, flooding and heavy rains," she said.

"The fact that we are doing this in partnership with stakeholders like IBM, Dimension Data, Africon and the Department of Health, indicates that indeed Gauteng is fast becoming a globally competitive city region," Mahlangu added.

Step forward

Health MEC Brian Hlongwa said better coordination and integration will lead to a reduction in the response times of emergency vehicles, such as ambulances and fire-engines.

"Even though the two centres are meant to respond effectively during disasters, I would personally want them to function in a manner that prevents all disasters from happening," Hlongwa said.

Dimension Data MD Jason Goodal said the establishment of the two centres would materially better the lives of Gauteng`s people.

"The 9.5 million residents of Gauteng are significantly safer as a result of the capabilities deployed, and the integrated and co-ordinated fashion that the province is now able to deal with all disaster and emergency-related issues," said Goodal.

Continuity SA CEO Allen Smith said his company was delighted to partner with government.

"Historically, there has been little interaction between the two disciplines of disaster management and business continuity. The establishment of this facility at Continuity SA is, therefore, a huge step forward in enabling Gauteng to provide world-class services to its citizens and businesses during catastrophe in a coordinated manner," Smith said.

Increased capacity

Mahlangu said Shilowa had promised the centre in his state of the province address, in February. "The premier made a commitment... this year that, in order for the province to deal with all emergency and disaster-related issues effectively, a disaster centre situated in a central point will be launched," she added.

"The promulgation of the Disaster Management Act in 2004 placed a strict requirement on provinces and municipalities in SA to ensure that respective communities would be protected against potential risk and have sufficient capacity to deal with disasters should they happen," she explained.

The launch follows the development of a disaster management framework and provincial disaster management framework and two years of work, said Mahlangu.

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