Tuesday, Jul 23rd

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Editorial - At the very least

The inauguration of a 5.5-million-guilder dispatch centre of the Police Force and Ambulance Department (see Wednesday paper) no doubt will be welcomed by most. For years there have been complaints about how calls for assistance often were handled on the Dutch side.

The state-of-the art system now in use should improve that situation, starting with manning the dispatch centre around the clock rather than only from 7:00am to 11:00pm as was the case for the police in the past. The latter is a necessity also considering the nature of the island’s tourism product and its renowned night-time entertainment.

Of course, apart from the technical aspect, human resources play a major role, so it’s good to know training was provided for the operators. The support of the Public Private Partnership (P3) for a safer St. Maarten can contribute to making the venture a long-term success in the general interest.

The fact that the Fire Department did not join in the new system was mentioned more than once and hope expressed this still would happen in the near future, because it would make the coordination of responding to incidents much easier. It was pointed out that cooperation nevertheless does exist between the three local emergency entities, as proven during the recent hurricane exercise Hurex.

The general public first learned at the end of January that the Fire Department had reservations about a shared dispatch centre. The reasons given included a lack of input regarding the location, equipment and running the centre.

Maintaining a separate facility also means not being dependent on just one and having something to fall back on in the event of a disaster, it was argued back then. The suggestion came to change the plans so that the 911 number could be dialled for all, but all calls for the Fire Department would be transferred to its own dispatch centre.

It’s not clear to what extent this has been arranged. However, a citizen who called recently requesting an ambulance was told to hold and then passed on to someone else.

What’s important is that the phone is picked up consistently in a courteous and helpful manner, by officials who quickly provide the help needed while reassuring the caller. Professional and effective service particularly in times of crisis at the very least is what people should be able to expect.