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066: Who Are You Going to Call?

“I can understand people’s despair, and for that reason there is an alternative number they can call: 152 0911. The call will be automatically redirected to Felipe Cohen at the 066 system.”

By Jesús Aguado

On December 17 last year a group of children were playing on a street in the Los Santos neighborhood in the upper area of San Miguel de Allende. One of them threw a pyrotechnic device that fell under a vehicle. After a few seconds, the car was on fire.

Despite the efforts of the neighbors to connect with the 066 emergency system, the calls were not answered until minutes later; moreover, the call was not taken in San Miguel, but in Dolores Hidalgo, which had to send the alert signal to ask for help in San Miguel. After 30 minutes, when the firemen arrived at the place where the event occurred, it was too late.

In this city, 066 is the most used emergency number. However, since April last year, this number has had several technical failures in assisting the emergency callers because calls from telephone companies like Megacable and Nextel are diverted to Dolores. From Dolores, if the responders have enough information, they can send the alert to San Miguel. In a moment of emergency, this could be fatal due to triangulation of communication and the waste of time.

“The problem rests with the General Direction of the State Center of Command, Communications, Computing, Coordination and Intelligence, C5i,” says Felipe Cohen, director of the Civil Protection Department, because eight years ago the Secretariat of Public Security launched the operations of the Escudo (Shield) program, and to date it is not completely functioning in our town.

Escudo and the Emergency Center

In 1999, as an initiative of the National System of Public Security, the 066 emergency number was launched in order to dispatch medical, security and traffic services in cases of emergency. Currently the number operates in 43 of the 46 cities of the state and, according to the State Secretariat of Public Security, in all of those 43 emergency centers, 309 people work 24/7 the whole year. The personnel are trained in their area, and there are 182 telephone operators, 102 dispatchers and 25 supervisors who are in communication with 135 security, medical and traffic services.

In San Miguel, the system started operations that year and today is located on the second story of the local administration building. However, the Escudo program started operations in the entire state on April 15 of last year. The program has two main goals: to serve those who call the 066 emergency system or the 089 number for anonymous complaints and coordinate the three levels of government in matters of public security, as well as coordination with state and federal authorities for the pursuit of justice. Part of the equipment already installed in the 46 municipalities of the state includes 704 urban surveillance cameras in 176 locations, 1,300 cameras for local urban surveillance in 650 locations, 368 cameras with technology to locate stolen vehicles and 184 fixed cameras. As part of the Escudo program, 600 “panic buttons” were installed around San Miguel as well as more than 100 cameras. The Escudo program included the addition of 23 emergency centers, including the one in San Miguel.

Atención had access to the offices of the 066 number. There, one person watches what is going on in town through the surveillance cameras on 32” screens. There is also a coordinator and a dispatcher from the different emergency entities. Although they allowed us to enter, we could not take photos or get specifications about the equipment due to the fact that, according to the director of Public Security, Arturo Yáñez, it is a restricted area, and the permit to take images must be granted by the State Secretariat of Security. He also commented that we could not talk about the results of the program in town because that is information only to be released by the state.

The failures of the system

Since the Escudo program was launched, sanmiguelenses complained that the emergency calls were not being taken on time, even if they tried several times. Members of the foreign community also complained of the lack of a bilingual operator for taking their calls. Finally, last year the system hired three bilingual operators who work in three shifts of eight hours. Besides providing telephone assistance, sometimes these operators go to the emergency location to assist foreigners as interpreters. The lack of bilingual operators was solved, but not the one of the unanswered calls.

The problem began, said Felipe Cohen, when the Escudo Program connected the 23 emergency centers of the state to the 5Ci, located in the city of Guanajuato. For that reason, the calls from different areas of San Miguel, like Fraccionamiento Insurgentes and rural communities, independent of the telephone company, were diverted to Dolores and later rechanneled to San Miguel. “That problem is almost solved,” said Cohen. “Only ten percent of the zone has the problem now.”

Nevertheless, the problem goes beyond the area where the calls are made from because the same situation occurs with landline phones from Megacable, Iusacell, Unefón and Nextel. “Yes, we have had some difficulties, like the reception of calls, because too many are diverted to Dolores, but we cannot fix the problem,” said Cohen.

Whose problem is it, then?

Cohen assured that it is a technical problem that needs to be solved by the State Secretariat of Public Security through its C5i. The director also commented that since April of last year, he has sent requests to that secretariat asking them to fix the failure. However, there has been no response. He remarked that, in spite of that obstacle, when they know that there is an emergency, they provide the requested services. In the meantime local citizens can call an alternative number, 152-0911, which automatically connects with the 066. The answer will be faster. “The triangulation of communication problem could be fixed in a couple minutes, but the 5Ci needs to reprogram the systems. I expect not to have the problem after this month.”

According to Director Cohen, the Escudo program and the cameras have detected robberies, and the videos have helped them know who is responsible. With the cameras, disorderly conduct, vandalism, traffic, and transportation accidents also have been detected.

Atención requested that the Social Communications Department of the Secretariat of Public Security provide the reasons why the system is not functioning correctly in San Miguel as well as a date when it could be fixed. We also requested the specific results that Escudo has had in the city. So far, we have not had an answer.

What the Secretariat shared with Atención was that eight months after launching Escudo, they have arrested 526 people for different charges that go from robbery to the sale and distribution of drugs in the state. They have also confiscated 418 stolen vehicles plus 34 motorcycles, three tractors and four eighteen-wheelers. At this point, the calls continue to be diverted to Dolores.


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