Title: Convergence unlimited: overloaded call centres and the Indian Ocean tsunami

Authors: Joseph Scanlon

Addresses: Emergency Communications Research Unit, Carleton University, Winnipeg, Canada

Abstract: In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, hundreds of thousands of persons all over the world called their foreign ministries to report that they were concerned their loved ones were among the victims. There were so many calls that most Foreign Ministry call centres were overwhelmed – in short, there was worldwide information convergence. Though all call centres had problems some fared better than others, sometimes because they had more experience or better planning, sometimes because they had a good back-up system or because they had a recording informing callers what information would be needed so callers were prepared when they did get through not because they did get through. In one case the problems were fewer because the incident occurred the day after Christmas day, which is a holiday in Christian countries but was a normal working day in Israel. Two countries – Canada and the Netherlands – used a computer-based system designed by a Canadian company, World Reach Software, intended for precisely this type of crisis. It functioned well. There is no way to prevent calls in the wake of such destructive events but a review of what happened in nine countries – Israel, the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – suggests that some lessons were learned and that planning could be improved.

Keywords: convergence; call centres; tsunami; mass death; missing persons; consuls; consular service; foreign affairs; emergency management; lessons learned; Israel; The Netherlands; United Kingdom; UK; Denmark; Norway; Sweden; Canada; Australia; New Zealand.

DOI: 10.1504/IJEM.2007.013991

International Journal of Emergency Management, 2007 Vol.4 No.2, pp.211 - 238

Published online: 07 Jun 2007 *

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