Friday, 13 February 2009

Major achievements over the last year

EENA's action has produced spectacular results over the last year. Let us give an overview:

  1. The EENA Advisory Board was set up and has been producing concrete results in several areas.
  2. The European Commission created a specific internet site in all EU languages with the situtation of the 112 in all Member States.
  3. The EENA successfully organised the first 112 Awards Ceremony in June 2008 and the second 112 Awards Ceremony on the 10th of February 2009.
  4. The EENA set up the 112 Emergency services Staff Network (ESSN) the first Europe-wide network for people involved directly or indirectly with the 112 (first responders, managers, call takers, operators, paramedics, ambulance staff, fire-fighters, police officers, coastguards, search and rescue organisations, etc.).
  5. At the initiative of the European Parliament, the Czech Presidency of the Council and the European Commission signed a tripartite declaration establishing the 11th of Ferbruary as the official European 112 Day. In fact the Second European 112 Day was celebrated successfully on the 11th of February 2009.
  6. The EENA created the 112 Foundation to help the Commission with its efforts to make the 112 known to 100% of European Citizens. One of the first concrete results of the 112 Foundation was the 112 Anthem presented at the European Parliament by the singer Nara Noian (french lyrics by Jacques Mercier).
  7. The EENA is also working in a number of projects including:
  • a taskforce on the European emergency number 112 within the European Standardisation Committee (CEN) Workshop 44 on Emergency Services Management (ESM);
  • the REACH112 project (officially selected by the European Commission in October 2008) which intends to improve the accessibility of the EU emergency services for people with disabilities as well as person-to-person communication;
  • the creation (after the election in June 2009) of a 112 and Emergency Services Intergroup in the European Parliament.

We will keep you informed through the specific internet sites on all developments. Please note that EENA is also present in Facebook.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The 112 one year later

It has been almost a year this blog has not been updated. And for good reason! EENA was very busy pushing the issue of a better-quality 112 for the citizens of the EU through the labyrinth of the EU Institutions in Brussels. As we are proud of the results, we would like to share them with you.

After considering EENA's petition in 2006, the European Parliament decided to take action. A cross-party coalition consisting of Vice Presidents Diana WALLIS (ALDE, UK), Gérard ONESTA (Greens/EFA, FR), Alejo VIDAL-QUADRAS (EPP-ED, ES), Dimitrios PAPADIMOULIS (GUE/NGL, GR) and former MEP Marc TARABELLA, introduced on the 23rd of April 2007 a written declaration on the European emergency call number 112. On the 6th of September 2007 this declaration was adopted with the largest majority ever to have been attained for a written declaration (530 MEPs out of a total of 785). This clear sign from the European Parliament created new perspectives for the 112.

The next step was the organisation of the first European 112 Day οn the 11th of February 2008 with the aims of making sure that Europeans are informed on the European emergency number 112 and that calls to this number are appropriately handled. Sponsored by the private sector as well as by dozens of Members of the European Parliament this day was a success and EENA hopes that it will become a tradition. On this same day the European Commission published a special Eurobarometer survey on the 112, which proved beyond doubt the need for concrete actions in this field.

In parallel, EENA is working to set up an an Advisory Board with the participation of main emergency telecommunications stakeholders, several high-level politicians, representatives of professional users and international organisations along with key industry players. More on this and about EENA's ideas concerning the 112 Excellence Centres in the next post.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

A roadmap for a better 112 service chain

An overview of EENA’s proposals to the European Commission since 2001

When reading this blog or EENA’s site, one could get the impression that EENA is only lodging complaints and protests. « Do you have any positive proposals? » « Why don’t you propose something practical? » are the questions well intentioned people usually ask. The answer is that EENA has been submitting concrete proposals since 2002, but the European Commission and the Member States have refused to consider them.

In 2001, in the context of a call for proposals for actions concerning the information to the Public (including the 112), EENA submitted a relevant proposal, the e-mergency project. It aimed at the creation of a central multilingual database of re-usable information and communication elements for the written, audio and video promotion of the 112 (videos, audio files, written messages, etc. to be used in information campaigns practically without cost for the users). Although it obtained high marks and was proposed for financing, it was rejected by the representatives of the Member States (who used to distribute the relevant funds amongst themselves) because, as one of them stated «since civil protection formed part of states’ principal responsibilities, the opinion of a state representative had to be sought to ensure the legality of each action presented in the framework of a call for proposals. Moreover, in most cases the projects were the responsibility of local authorities and did not have any intergovernmental impact. [The Member State concerned] gives indeed priority to intergovernmental projects». Of course the Member State in question did not launch any large scale information campaign on the 112 and the latest Eurobarometer showed that only one in every four of its citizens was aware of the 112.

In December 2003 EENA organized the 1st European 112 Conference and Exhibition in Brussels. Commission officials were invited and took the floor and EENA transmitted the conclusions to Commissioner WALLSTRÖM with some concrete proposals. Again, the Commission politely indicated that it would only try to raise awareness on the issue, the real work had to be done by EENA. They even wished us every success! So, in the beginning of 2004 and on the basis of concrete examples, EENA decided to play by the established rules. As the Commission pretended in its annual reports that there were no problems, we lodged a first series of complaints with the European Commission against several Member States who were implementing the 112 either partially or not at all. And when the Commission failed to respond in a timely manner we also lodged complaints against the Commission with the European Ombudsman. We should have known better! Our complaints against the Member States were dismissed in 2006 «as they did not provide a sufficient basis to proceed with an infringement proceeding» against the Member States concerned. Furthermore, although the Ombudsman concluded that «the Commission's failure to inform EENA about the complaints against Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom thus constitutes an instance of maladministration» this had no practical effect whatsoever. But he advised us to introduce a petition with the European Parliament!

In parallel we also continued proposing concrete actions. In the autumn of 2004 in collaboration with Ms. Fréderique RIES, Member of the European Parliament, we disseminated to all the Members of the European Parliament and to the new Commission a leaflet (Citizens’ Security: as simple as 1+1=2) describing the existing situation and proposing a «Roadmap for a better 112 service chain». In December 2004 we organized the 2nd European 112 Conference and Exhibition and on the basis of a request by the Cabinet of Commissioner DIMAS we submitted a proposal for an action program in the field of the 112 as far as citizens were concerned. Again the Commission did not reply, although EENA had ensured through the European Parliament that financing of the proposed actions was possible. So, we decided to follow the advice of the European Ombudsman and in July 2005 we introduced a petition with the European Parliament. More than a year later the petition was discussed and the whole exercise resulted in the support given by several MEPs during a press conference in February 2007.

Of course we continued submitting concrete proposals. We did so in the context of the consultation regarding community action on health services as well as in the context of the consultation on the telecommunications regulatory framework. What EENA has been proposing over the years boils down to the following:

  1. Evaluation of the real implementation of the full 112 service chain in the EU, on the basis of the methodology implemented in Portugal in 2003.
  2. Establishment of common quality standards concerning the 112 service chain (based on results obtained and not on means made available). These standards should cover issues like the percentage of population aware of the 112, the maximal response and intervention times, information concerning the availability of network coverage, possibilities of access by disabled users, the multilingual answering of calls, minimal requirements for the training of operators in the proper handling of calls, the transfer of caller location information, the practical implementation of the European health insurance card during emergencies and finally, periodic evaluation exercises of the whole 112 service chain.
  3. Launching an EU-wide programme to inform citizens about the existence and use of the 112. Although this is a legal obligation of Member States the EU could support and supplement their efforts in this area through the establishment of a 112 day, (11/2 or 1/12), the establishment of a central multilingual database of re-usable information and communication elements for the written, audio and video promotion of the 112 and the creation of a multilingual internet portal using the address.

Is this too much to ask, 16 years after the establishment of the 112, from a European Union who declares its will to get closer with its citizens?

Sunday, 18 February 2007

In praise of emergency services

Working under extreme stress, often with poor means, they are the first to support an upgrading.

Members of emergency services have often criticized EENA’s ideas of quality standards for answering and handling of calls to the 112 as well as evaluations by independent organisations. «How is it possible to implement quality standards and guarantee a maximal intervention time, when we do not dispose of adequate resources to do our job?», the president of the Belgian fire-fighters declared recently in a radio debate. And of course he is right. One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, goes the old French saying. Resources are certainly needed. And several emergency services all over Europe have been requesting improvements of telecommunications infrastructure and means.

It goes without saying that when EENA promotes the idea of an efficient 112 service chain, it does not pretend that this can be done free of charge. In our recent reply to the Commission’s consultation on the future of the telecommunications regulatory framework we even made some suggestions about the financing of the 112 operation. Either the telecom operators should be obliged to cover the costs in the context of the license (authorisation) they get to operate the networks. Or the Commission should issue guidelines for cost evaluation and allocation, following the example of the US which introduced legislation on this issue (the Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing 911 or ENHANCE 911 Act), to provide the funding for the upgrading of 911 call centres. EENA could also support a cost allocation model involving the subscribers to networks through a small fee (e.g. 1 € per invoice) for the provision of services by the emergency services, on the condition that these services will be provided on the basis of high level quality standards concerning answering and handling of calls, intervention times, evaluation etc.

EENA has also been promoting interdisciplinary dialogue on common standards for emergency telecommunication systems. During the first two European 112 conferences we invited all interested parties to deal with the issue. We almost created a EU Forum for emergency telecommunications with BAPCO – an initiative that was unfortunately aborted for reasons we never understood. We are happy to participate actively at the PSC Forum which was subsequently created by emergency services and the industry and to be co-organising the 1st European Security and Safety Summit – to which all emergency services are invited.

But above all EENA supports the idea of high quality services provided by emergency services to EU citizens. Nobody can really claim that the quality of these services is the same in Scandinavia as it is in Southern Europe. Improving the quality of services provided in Southern Europe on a similar basis with this of the North will certainly benefit above all the citizens and the members of emergency services in the South more than it will benefit the tourists from the North. After all, tourists come and go - the locals are there to stay …

EENA also supports the idea presented by the European Commission in October 2005 for an exchange of best practices between emergency services of the different Member States. Relevant fora for such exchanges do exist (various EU committees, ETSI-EMTEL, etc.) but apparently emergency services rarely participate. However, EENA’s contacts in emergency services within Member States indicate that they are very often frustrated when for example they do not have the tools available to their colleagues elsewhere in the EU (localisation, multilingual support, etc.). Sometimes EENA is shocked to realise that of emergency services with solutions to common problems are unable to share them with their colleagues while at the same time other less important subjects are debated with questionable results in numerous meetings and workshops financed with taxpayer money. Is this the reason why the 112 is still one of Europe’s best kept secrets? EENA could not think of any valid reason why the issue of the 112 is still such a low priority or even ignored at EU level.

EENA believes that if emergency services are interested in improving the services they offer they need to start collaborating at EU level in view of establishing a common position with the citizens in mind. Using emergency telecommunications in general and the 112 in particular could prove an interesting test bed. It may be the only way they can persuade the elected politicians or bureaucrats who propose resource allocation to give them priority. It may be the only way to ensure that they are no longer underpaid, understaffed and under trained. It may be the only way to ensure they will get modern equipment that will make their everyday life easier and maybe less stressful. It sure is the only way to get the support of citizens, all over Europe to their cause. Furthermore EENA strongly believes that such a pan-European approach can lead to new European success stories, similar to the introduction of the GSM mobile telephony system, Galileo, the Airbus and others.

A first step to achieve this collaboration could be taken through the participation at the 1st European Security and Safety Summit in Brussels (6-7 June 2007).

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Incompetent, indifferent or just cynical?

Why the Commission is not dealing with the 112 in a citizen-friendly way

When in 1989 the European Commission first proposed the creation of a single European emergency call number, its main argument was to serve Europe's citizens moving around in the single market created on the basis of the Single European Act, the work of then president Jacques Delors. However, the Commission neither promoted nor enforced the implementation of the 112 number. On the contrary, it left the issue almost unattended and thus the last Member State to report implementation was Greece in 2000 instead of the initial deadline of 1992 (and for countries asking for a derogation 1996). In fact the Commission even went so far as to report again and again to the European Parliament and the Council that the implementation of the 112 never faced a problem.

The first Eurobarometer on the knowledge of the 112 was conducted in 2000 and the results announced in May 2000 in the context of the first workshop on this issue ever held by the Commission (in collaboration with Luxembourg). The results, 9 years after the establishment of the 112 were unacceptable - only one in every five European knew about the existence of the 112 and they were mostly people from the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Portugal which have established the 112 as their unique national emergency call number. The proposals of the workshop were introduced in the new Universal Service Directive (article 26)and became EU laws in 2002 (Member States were obliged to transpose them by 2003). They included mainly the obligation for transmiting caller location information and for informing citizens about the existence and use of the 112. The older obligation of 1991, that calls to the 112 should be «appropriately answered and handled» was just carried over without changes. And in 2003 an evaluation of the complete 112 service chain conducted in Portugal (which was considered a model country as far as the implementation of the 112 was concerned) showed catastrophic results : 20% of calls in French, 29% of calls in English, even 15% calls in Spanish and Portuguese, never received help on the spot of the emergency!

At the same time several complaints were introduced with the Commission either through parliamentary questions or through the EENA (which introduced a series of complaints beginning 2004). Now the Commission adopted a different approach. The Parliament was told that there were too many problems to launch an information campaign. And that the Commission was only competent to ensure that calls were «appropriately answered and handled» as far as the telecommunications component was concerned. If the call is answered by somebody, the Commission is happy, no matter if the victim dies because the call wasn’t properly handled and help never arrived. The Commission even declared itself incompetent to deal with the full 112 service chain, because, it said, emergency services do not fall under its jurisdiction but are under the sole responsibility of national governments.

So is the Commission incompetent? Certainly not. The existing Treaty (articles 152, 153) provide that all Community policies should ensure a high level of human health and consumer protection, something that is not really ensured when the Commission declares that the 112 is a purely telecommunications issue. When the Commission is launching initiatives for the protection of minors from the harmfull content available on the internet, or for the regulation of smoking and deep sea fishing,victims of accidents who call the 112 certainly deserve a better service.

Is the Commission indifferent? One could hardly say so. Following the complaints of the EENA the Commission opened several infringement procedures against Member States which have not yet implemented the transfer of caller location information to the emergency services. It also launched (and relaunched) eCall, an ambitious project aiming at installing from 2009 onwards (now from 2010) on every new car a system which would call the 112 in case of a crash. And in 2005/2006 launched a new Eurobarometer survey which shows that only one in every three Europeans is now aware of the 112, a significant improvement compared to the survey of 2001 (although the questions asked were smoothly guiding the answers ...).

And is the Commission cynical? Oh yes! And very much so! In fact it is pushing only for the issues that concern industry (telecommunications for localization and car industry for eCall), ignoring the services provided to citizens. Each time the EENA tries to bring the issue of evaluation of the 112 service chain from the citizens' point of view or the issue of informing the public about the existence and use of the 112, the Commission's reply is a categorical NO - while all the Commissioners pay lip service to the need for initiatives to bring Europe nearer to its citizens. At the same time, while implementation of the (obligatory) 112 is lacking, the Commission rejoices about the creation of (non obligatory) «services of social value» for important, but non the less marginal, emergencies.

EENA believes that only when citizens start showing interest in their proper protection, the Commission will start paying more attention to the proper implementation of the 112 in the EU. We invite you to sign the petition and ask your friends and relatives to sign too! And, if you are still alive, please tell us your (happy or sad) personal story on the service you got when you called the 112. We will transfer it to the Commission in the context of a complaint - the Commission cynically pretends that it does not receive enough complaints on this issue ...

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Serving EU’s citizens in emergencies – the challenge of the 112

Ensuring better emergency services throughout the EU is the next big challenge

Having an accident in Spain or in Italy during the holidays may prove a very bad experience. Having the accident and not knowing which number to call may turn this experience into a nightmare. Calling the 112, the single European emergency call number, and not being understood because the operator does not speak your language, may be fatal.

The 112 was established in 1991 in the context of the universal service proposed to citizens as a counterbalance to the Single Market. In 2002 the Universal Service Directive consolidated the legal aspects in this field. And all Member States have since reported to the Commission that the 112 has been implemented. However, some well informed citizens mention that very little has been done in this major issue, and sometimes too late. Of course some countries like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal and others have even abolished their old national emergency numbers and adopted the 112 as their national emergency number. Others, like the UK and some regions of France, have implemented intelligent systems with on-duty interpreters to serve people who do not speak the national language. Still others have implemented the caller localization even for calls from mobiles – a technology that can save some 5.000 lives all over Europe when fully implemented.

But globally, the 112 service cannot yet be considered an EU success story. Out of 3 European citizens, only 1 knows about the existence of the number, while in some countries this percentage is even less. Localization is globally not implemented; as many call centers need to be modernized in order to be able to use location data transmitted by telephone operators. And no common quality criteria have ever been established, less enforced, concerning the fact that calls to the single European emergency call number "112" have to be «appropriately answered and handled» as provided for in the legislation in force.

The European Emergency Number Association has been striving to improve the quality of the services associated with the 112. Through conferences, debates, petitions, complaints, letters and other actions, the EENA has already put the 112 on the political agenda of the European Parliament. The European Commission has followed up some of the EENA’s complaints by opening infringement proceedings against several Member States for not implementing the EU legislation correctly. The EENA is actually collecting signatures from citizens in order to ask the EU to go a step further and offer a high quality 112 service to its citizens.

Taking care of citizens in emergencies on the basis of common EU wide standards should be the next step towards the establishment of a real citizens’ Europe. Launching an initiative to this end would be the best proof that the Europe imagined by the founding fathers 50 years ago can become a reality.

Help EENA make a difference in this field. You or your beloved may need an efficient 112 someday in the future. Act now to ensure that such an efficient number is considered a priority by the EU.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Quantity versus Quality

The 112 was established in 1991 and it was consolidated in 2002 in the context of the Universal Service Directive of the EU (article 26). One expects Europe's politicians to work hard to provide an efficient, high quality pan-European emergency call number. That they would ensure the implementation of the legal obligations provided for in the Directive, namely that «calls to the 112 are appropriately answered and handled», that emergency services receive «caller location information ... for all calls to the 112» and finally that «citizens are adequately informed about the existence and use of the 112».

Today, more than 15 years since the establishment of the 112 in Europe, the situation is far from ideal. Only one in every three Europeans is aware of the existence of the 112, while the numerous false calls to the 112 prove that people know very little about the proper use of this emergency call number. The European Commission has opened a dozen infringement procedures against Member States that do not transmit caller location information to emergency services, something that could save some 5.000 lives annually (and help emergency services save 5 billion of euros). However, at least in two cases, information about the implementation of localisation transmitted by Member States to the Commission was false and this could mean that more infringement procedures may be necessary. Conserning quality standards for the answering and handling of calls, the Commission just does not address the issue at all, pretending it is a solely national responsibility. Go explain this to the 100 million European citizens who cross the internal borders of the EU every year for leisure or business ... (for more information on the problems with the implementation of the 112 see the petitions EENA lodged with the European Parliament).

Given this state of affairs, one would expect European politicians to abstain from the field of emergency call numbers altogether. After all, emergency services do not fall under the provisions of the EU Treaties (although protecting of citizens and human health does ...). But when politicians want to make the news in an easy way they will use all available means. That is why, instead of working for the improvement of the existing 112 number, the European Commission recently launched the 116 000 telephone number, a new single hotline number for reporting missing children. Of course, nobody could be against an initiative to help parents and relatives report a missing child and launch a pan-European alert. Parents who realise that their child is missing are entitled to the best possible support as soon as possible in order to locate their child. But was it necessary to create a new European emergency number when the 112 already exists and there is a firm legal basis for its improvement? Will the new 116000 number be equipped with caller location capabilities? Are calls to the new number to be appropriately answered and handled? What will be the cost for this new service compared to the cost of a better implementation of the 112?

According to available statistics some 70.000 children are reported missing in the EU every year. According to a World Health Organisation report entitled «Injury: A leading cause of the global burden of disease», heart attacks, cerebrovascular incidents, self inflicted injuries, falls, road accidents, poisonings, drowning and interpersonal violence provoke every year in the (high income) European region some 1.287.769 deaths and some 9.066.441 cases of injured (data for the year 2000). In most of these cases people would seek help by calling the emergency medical services. Unfortunetely we do not have EU-wide data for fires and police inreventions, that would have made these numbers still bigger.

This is why EENA believes that improving the 112 service chain would benefit ALL people who seek desperately for help INCLUDING parents or relatives who want to report missing children. If 70.000 missing children are to be considered (quite rightly) a priority, the millions of victims who everyday call (or do not call because they ignore) the European emergency call number, also deserve a high quality service. But of course it is easier to make the news on a highly emotional issue rather than deal with the bleak reality ...