[LINK] Lost in the Blue Mountains: triple-0 operator 'uncaring'

Danny Yee danny at anatomy.usyd.edu.au
Fri Apr 17 08:57:27 AEST 2009

That's a terrible story.  If I'm ever in that situation (with someone
else's mobile, as I don't use one myself) I think I'll try to ring
the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad directly
The paging service there might complicate things, but at least the
people involved won't be expecting a street address (and will know
where Mount Solitary is).

The other option would be to ring a family member or friend, who should
know what route I planned to take -- and will be motivated to help.

I didn't realise 000 went to a Telstra call centre!


David Boxall wrote:
> <http://www.smh.com.au/national/lost-in-the-blue-mountains-triple0-operator-uncaring-20090416-a84z.html?skin=text-only>
> >
> > The mother of a schoolboy who died after becoming lost while hiking in 
> > the Blue Mountains cried as it was revealed that emergency phone 
> > operators had been "uncaring" and failed to listen to her son as he 
> > desperately pleaded for help, an inquest into his death has heard.
> >
> > The manager of the Sydney call centre of the Ambulance Service of NSW, 
> > Superintendent Peter Payne, agreed that there had been serious 
> > deficiencies in the way his centre had handled five of the emergency 
> > calls made by David Iredale, 17, on December 11, 2006.
> >
> A young man gets lost in the bush, but he has a lifeline: a mobile phone 
> and a working network connection. He makes at least seven calls to 
> emergency services, but ends up dead. He should have had a good chance 
> at survival. What went wrong?
> > ... the call takers had been "fixated'' with receiving a street 
> > address as it was required by their training.
> The operatives couldn't think their way around the fact that there are 
> no street signs in the bush. Sound bizarre? In my experience, it's 
> inevitable.
> My experience was in a large government department. Which department 
> isn't relevant: they don't differ much - neither from each other nor 
> from commercial operations. I've retired now so my knowledge is dated, 
> but I doubt the situation has improved.
> Call centre operatives typically get a database of scripted responses. 
> They're trained to give no response that isn't in the system. If your 
> problem doesn't match one of the available responses, you'll be given 
> one of them anyway. Usually, the caller will hang up before realising 
> that their question hasn't been answered. Sometimes, that realisation 
> takes quite a while. But the operative has a completed call on their record.
> An operative who's found to have given an answer that isn't in the 
> system will be disciplined. If they're casual, they may find that they 
> get fewer hours or none at all.
> It acts like a winnowing process. The outcome is a distilled essence: 
> operatives who can't think for themselves, have learned not to or can't 
> be bothered.
> Systems like that aren't limited to telephone call centres. Similar 
> processes are used with correspondence and (when they bother to answer 
> at all) email. Ever wondered why letters from government departments 
> seem to be mostly irrelevant boilerplate text? What intrigued me was 
> that, as quality of service degraded, the statistics employed by 
> management to measure performance soared.
> To my mind, the executives responsible for implementing such a 
> commercial-grade system in an emergency services context should be held 
> criminally liable. I reckon it's more likely that the operatives, who 
> are just products of the system, will be held to account.
> For those who don't know the story, there's more here: 
> <http://www.smh.com.au/national/teen-made-many-desperate-pleas-but-no-one-came-20090414-a69m.html?page=-1>.
> There's an opportunity here to come up with a system that works.
> -- 
> David Boxall                    |  In a hierarchical organization,
>                                 |  the higher the level,
>                                 |  the greater the confusion.
>                                 |                     --Dow's Law.
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