For the last 2 weeks we have been treated to a so-called “Public Service Announcement” on RTE Radio & TV, encouraging the Irish public to use Eircode when calling the “emergency service”(s). The advert is NOT actually a public service announcement and, in fact, the radio version does not make the false claim at all, unlike its TV equivalent.
The sole reason the claim is made is to ensure that RTE will broadcast it for free as part of their public service obligations and this is why it has not been broadcast at all on any other 3rd party TV or radio stations. Eircode is already way over budget (initially set at €17m) and the Department of Communications cannot be seen to be adding further to the already projected €50m Eircode expenditure and, therefore, it is for that reason that the “Public Service Announcement” claim is being desperately made.
The Eircode Ambulance advert is most definitely NOT a public service announcement. To be that, it would require the clear and unambiguous endorsement of responsible agencies to achieve that very special and reserved designation. Such endorsements would give absolute confirmation that the State, or one of its authorised agencies, is making a carefully considered announcement in the best interests of the Irish public. The Eircode ambulance advert has no such endorsement from any responsible State agency;- neither in written or verbal forms and not from the HSE, COMREG, the NAS, Dublin Fire Brigade, the Fire Service, the Gardaí, the Coast Guard, from Doctor on Call or any voluntary 1st Responder Service nationwide who, all together, are or represent our Blue Light “Emergency Services”. Therefore, the advert we are seeing and hearing on RTE TV & Radio is no more than a cynical and misleading commercial being broadcast to increase sales of the Eircode database by Capita Business Services Ireland Ltd. Capita are the commercial license holders of Eircode, and its parent company, Capita in London, happens to own the Eircode Trademark and the Eircode business trading name.
This debacle is all part of a long standing effort by the Department of Communications and related Eircode contractors, Capita & Autoaddress/Gamma, to give the impression that Eircode took into account the needs of the Emergency Services when it was concocted. The exact opposite is the actual truth of the matter. When Eircode was launched by then Minister Pat Rabbitte in April 2014, related marketing and publicity material claimed that Eircode would help the “Emergency Services get to you faster”. At that point no member of the Emergency Services had ever even seen or been consulted on the design of Eircode and, to add insult to injury, whilst part of the Eircode budget was being spent on updating the address databases of the Dept. of Social Protection and others, not one cent was allocated for trial/testing or implementation of Eircode by the Emergency Services. It is for that reason that very shortly after that launch the claim on behalf of the Emergency Services was quickly and discretely watered down. In addition, the Irish Fire & Emergency Services Association (IFESA) openly criticised the randomness of Eircode and it’s potential to put lives at risk.
If that was not bad enough, more than one year later in a radio interview on 13th July 2015, the day of the roll-out of Eircode, then Minister Alex White categorically stated that the National Ambulance Service (as well as other services) was at that point already using Eircode. His own party colleague Paul Bell appeared on the same programme the following day to confirm that what the Minister said was in fact untrue.
And so the Department of Communications’ flirtation with the truth in relation to the Emergency Services use of Eircode goes on. Almost another year later, the trilogy of false Ministerial claims was completed when on 16th June last when the new Minister, Denis Naughten, claimed in the Dáil that Eircode was “saving lives”, and this was said without one shred of supporting evidence. Evidence was subsequently sought but none was provided. This writer believes that it is no coincidence that a mere 2 weeks later, end June 2016, RTE had already contracted the filming of the Capita Eircode ambulance advert that we are now seeing and hearing on their broadcast media.
Those behind Eircode right up to Ministerial level, presumably encouraged by Assistant Sec. Patricia Cronin of the Department of Communications who has been involved with the project for several years and at several levels, are desperate to justify the €50M being spent on Eircode by manipulating an association for it with the serious business of saving lives. This is especially pressing now, more than 2 years after Minister Rabbitte launched Eircode, since neither An Post nor any confirmed logistics company is using Eircode and multiple Ministerial claims of Google and others in the navigation business being ready to support Eircode have never materialised. It is a cynical and very serious development and highlights that elected representatives of our Government are willing to misrepresent matters related to the safety of citizens’ lives in order to protect their own interests.
They want you, the citizens of Ireland, to believe that Eircode was well thought out and carefully considered and procured over the 12 years of discussion and debate since first muted in 2003, even though the Comptroller & Auditor General at a Public Accounts Committee in Jan 2016 reported the exact opposite. There has been much and wide debate and criticism of the Eircode design. But those behind it want you to believe that it was at least carefully considered for Public Safety and Emergency response. They also want you to believe that it was because of the availability of other technologies that it was decided to restrict Eircode’s emergency response capability just to properties where An Post deliver mail. This is in spite of the fact that the Emergency Services are tasked with responding to every incident whether it be in a postal address or to those in farm/forest/industrial/recreational or coastal buildings and locations with no Eircode at all or to accidents which happen daily on our roads. Those behind Eircode claim that existing technology to support response to those non- Eircode locations is more than adequate, thereby justifying a design decision to limit Eircode’s effective coverage and capability. It is for this reason that they recently suggested that a UK based start-up company was already providing a suitable coding system for response away from postal addresses in the form of “what3words”. Those same individuals, who have no emergency response experience, expertise or mandate whatsoever, were silenced when I published this recent article demonstrating that what3words was completely unsuited to emergency response scenarios. Yet the Department of Communications continues to promote on its website a commercial app which adds what3words to Eircode for this and other purposes. It should also be said that the same Dept. undertook no procurement process in order to legitimise its promotion of a UK commercial solution which has never been tested or assessed fit for purpose by them or any State agency.
So now we are told that even if what3words cannot be used, there are apps that will help raise the alarm in the event of emergencies away from buildings with letterboxes; – again being promoted to give the impression that the design limitations and restrictions of Eircode where considered and deliberate. Only this week when Google announced its location tool for Android platforms, Eircode contractors Autoaddress were quick to point to it as another reason why Eircode did not need to cover the whole country and especially a reason why Loc8 Code, which is already in use as a Public Safety response code for non-postal addresses and a serious threat to the viability of Eircode, wasn’t needed at all. This new Google app/tech initiative is extremely welcome as is the Irish designed Locateme 112 app which has been in use in Ireland for some time. However, those who know about emergency response will tell you that there is no one solution for all requirements or conditions. Apps & mobile platform technology have limitations and, of course, need an internet connection to work, something which is not always available in Ireland. However, the most significant limitation for this purpose is that they rely on a real-time GPS calculated position to provide the required location information. As a professional in the area of GPS and related Positioning, its capabilities and its associated limitations are well known to me. GPS accuracy can vary depending on how long activated in the mobile device, where and how the device is held and in what environment it is used. Accuracy can be in the order of a few metres to a few 10’s of metres just after activation, indoors or close to obstructions such as buildings & trees. Of course, GPS and its normal accuracy can also be denied by local interference or by the service owners themselves in the event of major security threats. Similarly, the phone coverage necessary for an app to provide any functionality at all can be undermined in the event of excessive demand during a major incident, because of weather or just because of the remoteness of the location. Taking the GPS accuracy consideration alone, a possible +/- 10m accuracy along a river bank, canal or railway could locate someone in difficulty on the wrong side of the obstruction; – thereby potentially diverting an emergency response 10’s of kilometers in the wrong direction with associated critical confusion and time delays. Exactly the same can happen in relation to motorways where a GPS calculated location on the wrong carriageway can cause diversions to the wrong access junctions in the order of multiple kilometers away and resulting in 10’s of minutes in time delays. It is for this reason that Loc8 Code has already been working with Irish Water Safety and Local Authorities to print accurate and pre-validated positions in the form of Loc8 Codes on Ringbuoys along watercourses. In this case, no smartphone, app or location platform is required to calculate the location and be subjected to the vagaries of GPS accuracy or internet access. The 999/112 caller just has to read out the short but robust code they see in front of them. Loc8 Code has proposed the expansion of this public safety initiative to other public infrastructure nationwide and especially where other diverse and non-location based localised codes are already in use. Loc8 is also proven and in use for response in the event of major incidents at major national civil and commercial infrastructure by all elements of the emergency services. Of course, those who promote the idea of apps and words for non Eircode based responses fail to understand that emergency response has many elements to it. The first part is indeed to locate the incident as just discussed but, then there is a requirement to communicate that to responders and others who might have to be necessarily involved. Whilst it is the case that very shortly the National Ambulance Service will have all its ambulance resources fitted with connected data terminals, they and others will still have the requirement to verbally communicate location to all those who might be involved in a response. Leaving Eircoded buildings aside, there is then a requirement to use a quick and robust method of verbally communicating that location. Loc8 Code provides that solution for which it has already been proven and, furthermore, it can be successfully used on mobile platforms with no credit or internet connection and on offline Garmin navigation devices; – something which is not possible with Eircode even for the postal addresses it only serves. In these ways, Loc8 Code, as a standard feature on public infrastructure, can be completely complimentary to any app conceived either now or later and, between both, they would cover all potential public safety requirements which is the clear necessity.
So the nature of emergency response dictates that providing a code solution just for postal addresses and relying on apps for everything else is neither justified nor realistic, contrary to what those behind Eircode might want to suggest to the Irish Public. Of course, we must not forget that in the UK the national postcode, devised in the last century, already provides for this. The UK postcode applies also to locations that do not receive mail and, though not a perfect solution by any means, it is a capability that those concocting the so-called new “Global Standard” Eircode completely ignored, or possibly were never aware of in the first place.
Due to the limitations of Eircode, it’s adoption for emergency response will be restricted in spite of claims to the contrary by the Department of Communications, its Minister, Officials and Contractors, and, given those same limitations, there is now a requirement for a robust Public Safety Emergency Response Code and Loc8 Code has been proving itself for that purpose since 2011.
In my evidence to the Oireachtas on the subject of Eircode in June 2015, I warned that misinformation about Eircode capabilities would put lives at risk over time. The currently running Capita ambulance advert, which erroneously gives the impression that no address at all is required when calling 999/112 if you give an Eircode and that all emergency/ambulance services are ready and able to use it, is a classic case of such misinformation. It is hard to believe that such claims can be made at all when it is known that Eircode was never tested and proven for any purpose whatsoever, let alone emergency response, and it is well documented since roll-out that many codes are wrong, misleading or missing. This being the case, rather than suggesting that lives will be lost if you don’t use it when calling 999/112, a responsible State would be spending millions telling citizens to check that the code they were given is actually correct and also facilitating immediate solutions in the case of the 1000’s that apparently are not!
I would, therefore, encourage that those who are responsible for Public Safety and Advertising Standards in Ireland, should have the Capita advert removed as a matter of urgency and a real Public Safety Announcement, showing how to check that the code is correct and who to contact if it’s not, be broadcast in its stead. This is now a real imperative before anyone starts to rely on it for any purpose let alone the safety of citizens or visitors. Furthermore, a robust and proven Public Safety Emergency Response Code should be implemented Nationwide as a key piece of National civic infrastructure to compensate for the functionality those behind the €50m Eircode critically overlooked in their efforts to satisfy the protectionist dictats of An Post.