India to develop its own '911'; first nationwide emergency response line

Cars, motorcycles, and buses form a massive traffic jam in a street in central New Delhi. Jams like these are daily occurrence, and can block emergency services access to accident sites.

Story highlights

  • Government moving forward with five year plan for one unifying national emergency line
  • Currently Indian states have up to 10 different emergency lines

(CNN)Last week, actress and member of India's parliament, Hema Malini, was involved in a fatal car accident, which left a two-year-old girl dead.

Malini was rushed to the hospital by a local doctor in his car, but he didn't take the the injured two-year old or her family, along, local media reports said.
    The girl's family waited for 20-25 minutes before help arrived.
    "Had she been taken to the hospital along with Hema Malini, she would have been saved" the girl's uncle told NDTV, an Indian television network.
    Long waits for emergency services are not unusual, say road safety campaigners. But that's something that might change as India moves forward with plans for its first nationwide emergency response system.
    "It's surprising that help even came that quickly," says Harman Singh Sidhu, president of ArriveSAFE, an Indian road safety advocacy group.
    "India's emergency response services are as fractured as its roads and infrastructure... these services claim they can arrive in 10-15 minutes, but most take up to 45 minutes."
    India has some of the most dangerous roads in the world, and the two-year-old killed in the collision with Hema Malini's car is just one of the approximate 231,000 deaths which occur each year, according to the WHO.
    Activists like Sidhu say deaths could be prevented if India had a more efficient emergency response service.

    India's own '911'

    With up to 10 different emergency lines in some states, India's current emergency response teams lose precious time in having to contact the various departments, and in making sure that response teams are working within their proper jurisdictions, before responders can act on an emergency situation.
    To add to the confusion, emergency phone numbers can vary across states.
    "Drivers never expect an accident to happen to them, so they hardly take the necessary precautions to remember all the relevant emergency numbers when traveling across states" says Sidhu.
    India's Ministry of Home Affairs is implementing five-year plan for developing a nationwide emergency response system.
    "India's new emergency hotline,112, initially plans to integrate India's emergency call numbers for police (100), fire (102), ambulance (103) and Emergency Disaster Management (108)" says Sanjiv Banzal, an Indian telecommunications official.
    "Eventually, the number will take over all the emergency numbers, becoming the one-stop emergency response system."
    Meeting the demand of a nation with 1.2 billion people and 22 different official languages will certainly prove to be a challenge.
    In five years time, the Indian '112' one-stop number will be designed to accommodate 1,000,000 daily calls, just under twice the number of calls '911,' the U.S. equivalent, receives.
    The new system will support 13 different languages while incorporating email, SMS, and mobile app support as well as a 'panic button' feature for use on public transport, according to India's Home Ministry.
    "A national emergency service will certainly will certainly reduce response time for emergency situations and help save lives, but only to a degree," says Sidhu.
    He believes there are deeper structural issues.
    "When I had a spinal injury, I was unable to lie flat in the ambulance because it was too small for a 6-foot man," he says.
    "Just the other day, I read about a case where the ambulance had to stop for gas on the way to the hospital -- it shows you the state of how poor our services are."