Increase in Prank Calls Disrupting Crisis Help Line

More people than ever are using the official 1-1-9 emergency phone line to call for help with medical crises since the government’s Nov 14 directive banning private ambulances from picking up people in emergency situations, officials said Wednesday.

But pranksters have also been jamming the official emergency phone line by calling operators at 1-1-9 about nonexistent accidents and medical crises, said Mom Teth Moteha, a Calmette Hospital emergency line operator.

People have always called in pranks to the 1-1-9 line, but the number of hoax calls has dramatically increased since the new directive to ban private ambulances was ap­proved by the Ministry of Health, Mom Teth Moteha said.

“They called to report an accident that happened at Kilometer 5 [in Russei Keo district], but when we went there, there was no accident. They give us a headache. It is dangerous for the patients,” she said.

Emergency line workers have now requested that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications in­tervene by installing technology that would identify the phone number of prank callers, and which could then lead to their punishment by authorities, she said.

Operators at the 1-1-9 number are now handling about 1,500 calls a day, up from about 1,000 per day prior to the Nov 14 directive on private ambulances.

Though he was unaware of the problems with the emergency services’ line, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun said that identifying fake callers is possible.

“We could rig the emergency line to show caller numbers if they request us to do it,” the minister said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the police stand ready to prosecute anyone wasting the time of emergency services.

Police will “take action against people who disturb the emergency line,” Khieu Sopheak said, adding that prank callers are risking peoples’ lives.

“Operators probably won’t believe them when they are truly in danger or in an accident,” he said.

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