In times of emergency, a small team based in Geelong has provided support to thousands of Australians no matter where they are in the world. From the Victorian Bushfires to the New Zealand Earthquakes, staff at the National Emergency Call Centre, located at the Geelong Smart Centre have been ready with a frontline response to emergencies worldwide, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This month, the National Emergency Call Centre (NECC) celebrated its 10 year anniversary.
The centre was established by the Australian Government in July 2006 to serve as a first point of contact for Australians in the event of an emergency or disaster of national significance. For over a decade, the Emergency Call Centre has been at the forefront of providing support, taking calls and processing claims for thousands of people in their time of need.
As Geelong Smart Centre Manager Jillian Bolger explains, the Department of Human Services was well placed to provide a coordinated whole of government response to the delivery and gathering of information.
“The department’s Geelong Smart Centre was chosen to pioneer this ‘24 hour Contact Centre’ because of its reliable, responsive performance, successful involvement in previous emergency situations, and demonstrated capacity to meet unexpected, emergency call demand,” Jillian said.
“In its first year, the centre took more than 12,200 calls and made 5200 outbound calls on the Lebanon Crisis Line alone. Since then, the team has responded to more than 120 emergency activations, including the Victorian Bushfires, the Indonesian Tsunami, the New Zealand Earthquake, the Malaysian Airlines incident and West Australian bushfires.”
But the centre deals with more than just natural disasters.
Giacinta Rebis, a staff member who has been with the team since 2007, has worked through many different incidents over the past nine years.
“The variety of work that we do is really diverse. It’s not just taking calls for Centrelink assistance– we’ve done a lot for the Australian Electoral Commission, and we’ve also worked for other government departments, including the Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” Giacinta said.
“During the Black Saturday Bushfires, our staff answered approximately 1400 calls over the weekend overflowed from the Victorian Bush Fire Information Line, as part of our assistance to the Department of Sustainability and Environment. We were able to provide local residents with critical information about whether they could return to their homes.”
Staff at the Emergency Call Centre have also provided support to Australians affected by acts of terrorism, such as September 11, the London Bombings in 2005, and the 2016 Brussels and Paris attacks.
Jillian said she was most impressed with the teams’ ability to provide support in the early stages of an emergency, when little or no information is available.
“Our emergency teams demonstrate a solid sense of community with their support for each other.”
The Emergency Call Centre is made up of four teams of 15 people and a team leader, who rotate through 12 hour shifts. Spending such long hours together and doing the type of work that they do, makes having strong relationships crucial, but Giacinta says this isn’t a problem for the crew at Geelong.
“It’s a fantastic team. Everyone gets on very well and they make it very easy to come into work each day. We’re very supportive of each other, which is really important given the challenges that come from working in the crisis and emergency recovery environment,” Giacinta said.
Giacinta says the assistance available to staff is second to none.
“We have social workers here to support us during those major incidents and to debrief, but they’ve also been available to step in on the phone lines if anyone has needed support.
“The team leaders are also incredibly supportive. We bounce of each other a lot and everyone is very close.”
Giacinta says the recognition and appreciation the team receives is also incredibly rewarding.
“Being able to assist people and hearing their gratitude is really heart-warming. Even if it’s just for helping them claim an emergency payment, people are really, really appreciative.
“It’s also been really rewarding to get feedback from other departments who are genuinely really grateful and say that they couldn’t have done their work without us.”
At the recent anniversary celebration, staff were presented with a commemorative card and pin for their services.
Jillian said it was wonderful to be able to pause and acknowledge such a significant contribution to the Australian community.
“We really appreciate your unique and ongoing contribution to our Geelong Smart Centre community and our broader community.”
Find out more about what help in an emergency the department can offer.
Feature image: Jillian Bolger (Emergency Call Centre Manager), Matt Clarke (National Manager Smart Centre Channel Operations) and Tanya Thornton (National Manager Smart Centres South).