Puerto Rico 911 Call Centers Are Shutting Down Because Employees Have Coronavirus

911-COVID-Puerto RIco

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By Mivette Vega

October 22, 2020

The two emergency call centers on the island are inoperative after several employees tested positive for COVID-19. Politicians criticized the Department of Public Safety for its lack of planning.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Both of Puerto Rico’s 911 call centers were shut down Wednesday night after several of its employees tested positive for COVID-19.

Pedro Janer, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said in a press release that people should call the Bureau of Emergency and Disaster Management (NMEAD by its Spanish initials) or the police if they have an emergency.

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“Employees who had or may have had contact with affected people were placed in isolation, and tests will be carried out to detect COVID-19 during the next few days,” the press release said.

The secretary added that local health department recommendations are being followed, and all call centers are being sanitized. 

According to The Associated Press, shortly after the announcement was made, people started calling the first number Janer provided and got a recording prompting them to call 911 in case of an emergency. Calls were then forwarded to a phone directory. Some callers got a busy signal.  

Kiara Hernández, Department of Public Security press officer, told El Nuevo Día that phone lines were overwhelmed and that was the reason callers were redirected to a phone directory.  

“There have been dozens of calls from people testing the system̦,” Hernández said. “That prevents real emergencies from getting through.” 

Nino Correa, NMEAD commissioner, said the agency is working to increase the line’s capacity.

On Thursday, the Department of Public Safety said users can now call 911 because those calls are being forwarded to the police, where personnel are available to handle them.

Several politicians have criticized the safety department for not having a contingency plan. Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González tweeted the situation was “unacceptable.”

“Completely unacceptable that the government’s emergency [hotline] would not have a plan B, C, D, or as many as required in place to handle a situation that could be anticipated. […] The emergency number could not handle its own emergency,” González wrote on Twitter.

Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, Popular Democratic Party (PPD) candidate for resident commissioner, condemned the Department of Public Safety’s lack of preparedness and requested Janer’s resignation. 

“In the midst of a global pandemic crisis, the agency in charge of supporting us during a crisis was not prepared for this foreseeable situation that’s been going on for months. And they still dare to ask for 4 more years,” Acevedo tweeted.

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José Vargas Vidot, an independent senator, also chimed in on the situation, criticizing how people might have to dial seven digits during an emergency.

“If 9-1-1 money was not being played with, we could have contingencies in place for these cases,” Vargas Vidot posted on Twitter.




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