An automated message system is allowing indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory to engage emergency services in their native language, some for the first time. NEC and Stratum ICT, which created the technology, says the system has greatly reduced the pressure on emergency contact lines.

Last year the Joint Emergency Services Communication Centre suffered a significant outage, preventing callers from getting through.

Since introducing the system which directs calls more appropriately to local police stations, NEC says calls to the Northern Territory’s Joint Emergency Services Communication Centre have dropped from 4,000 a month to just 1,000.

The new message system, known as recorded voice announcement (RVA), carries voice messages in 20 different Aboriginal languages, which when accessed by a caller, connects them to the most appropriate of one of 64 police stations in the Northern Territory or the 131 444 emergency services hotline. 

Callers are immediately prompted to hang up and dial 000 line if it is a more serious emergency situation.

While the underlying message and prompt technology is not necessarily new technology, the new indigenous language capabilities are and means many locals can engage services in their native dialect for the first time.

If a caller is connected to local police but the station is unmanned the caller can leave a message, which local police can access via email, providing local police an option to access and respond to requests on the go.

Previously, many of the less serious inquiries would, in the absence of clear instructions, go straight to the Joint Emergency Services Communication Centre through triple zero, according to NEC.

NEC says the system also allows Aboriginal people to learn about the use of different emergency service phone numbers they can access, an opportunity previously unavailable.

The system won the 2019 SA/NT iAward for Community Service Markets and has been nominated for a national award, announced later this month.

Russell Baird, managing director of Stratum ICT, told Which-50 Northern Territory police have been happy with the system so far, which is delivering services in local languages for the first time.

“We are now recognising that there’s not just english spoken in these communities, and the services is provided in the predominant language.

“The attributes of the system are probably more to do with recognising that services need to be delivered in these Aboriginal languages, and not just english. And when you do that you get results.”

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