IT is a sad reflection on society when people make a habit of abusing emergency response services. According to a recent report in this paper, around 90 per cent of calls made to the police’s 15 helpline in Karachi in 2011 were bogus. However, the problem of prank calls is not exclusive to Karachi, as there have been reports in the past citing abuse by pranksters of the 1122 rescue services number in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Peshawar. In fact even developed nations are plagued with this problem; callers to the 911 service in the US, for example, often lodge trivial, bizarre complaints.
Considering the sheer volume of prank calls received — hundreds of thousands yearly in Karachi’s case alone — it is practically impossible for the police to track down every prankster. Instead, the state should focus on launching nationwide public-awareness campaigns to make people aware of the utility of emergency response numbers and to warn them that calling these numbers unnecessarily or for entertainment can endanger the lives of those who need immediate help. While there have been some legitimate complaints of lethargic responses by police, when pranksters clog up the lines and engage emergency responders, genuine callers may be unable to get through or receive a delayed response. Meanwhile, the staff shortage at 15 centres needs to be addressed and the number of response centres and vehicles increased, especially in Karachi, so that emergencies can be effectively handled. While the state needs to stay alert and respond to crime and emergency situations in a timely and effective manner, the public must also realise that emergency services are for the common good and that people’s lives should not be jeopardised by treating emergency helplines as a joke.