September 14, 2010

It's an Emergency - Who the Heck do I Call?

*** Update June 1, 2015: There is now one SINGLE Poison Control number: 0861 555 777 ***

It just occurred to me (6 months after we moved here!) that none of us have any idea who to call in case of an emergency here in South Africa. I'm very grateful that until now we've had no need to, but I decided we need to be better prepared. This morning I set out to compile a simple list of essential numbers to post on our fridge. Something we all can use, especially the kids. But of course, as you may have gathered from my blog, nothing is ever easy and straight forward in South Africa, and it immediately became a project.

I first went though the list and refrigerator magnet we received from Corporate Relocations upon moving in, hoping to whittle it down. I mean, who wants the following information on their fridge: Emergency connect - 10177; Greater Johannesburg for all life threatening emergencies - 011 375 5911; in case of difficulties with an emergency call - 1022 (I'm sorry, but that's the part where I started laughing); Police/flying squad - 10111; From a cell phone - 112; Emergency connect - 082 911; Poison information centre - 021 689 5227 or 021 931 6129... It goes on and on. I am imagining the following: "Oops, a fire, let's see, where is my list... fire, fire...Would that fall under emergency? Or rather police/flying squad? What is a flying squad anyway? I could call the Johannesburg number... from my house phone or cell phone? Kids - pour some water on that fire, will you, while I go down that list!

Taking my search to the Internet only revealed some more history about this gaping problem. Apparently, there have been efforts to create one single nationwide emergency number (112, the same as is used throughout Europe) and there has been success insofar as this number can be used for all emergencies FROM YOUR CELL PHONE. But regarding landlines, the picture is more bleak. I found out that the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (DCOGTA - I am pausing briefly to consider the nature of this department) had formed a task force to consolidate South Africa's 1500 (!) emergency contact numbers prior to the World Cup, but evidently nothing came from it. In case of a specific emergency, South Africans without a mobile phone seem to be cursed with having to remember or look up a battery of telephone numbers for every emergency service provider in the country.

After a little more research (I decided to call some of these numbers to make sure they actually work!), I settled on the following list for our fridge:

South African Emergency Numbers

Ambulance10177
Netcare 911 (private ambulance)082 911
Police/Fire10111
Poison Information Centre086 155 5777
Dainfern Valley Security011 469 0805
Douglasdale Police011 699 1300
Life Fourways Hospital011 875 1000Cedar Rd/Cedar Ave
Sunninghill Hospital011 806 1500Witkoppen/Nanyuki Rd

I decided to keep both ambulance numbers because frankly I don't know which one is better. I will have to ask around amongst our South African friends. I also kept both poison control numbers; they both connect to hospitals in Cape Town and are supposedly staffed around the clock, but it seems better to have two options in case somebody has nodded off. It is also a good idea to have a number for your estate's security office, as they can handle various emergencies as well and are certainly the closest at hand.

My next action item is to save 112 as the first entry into all of our cell phones and discuss all the above numbers with the kids.