A day in the life of Michael Kelly

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We had a conversation with Michael Kelly, Head of Operations, ECAS at BT Ireland, we wanted to know more about Michael’s essential role here at BT Ireland, how he got into that position and what he does for Ireland’s ECAS, a service BT Ireland has been providing for ten years.

1. Where did you start your career and how did you end up working for BT?

I started my career in IT in An Post, working on banking products by bringing in new-fangled (at the time) on-line systems after a degree in Computer Science. I was employee number 3 in PostGEM, using my telecoms experience to roll out many types of data networks which included building the Ireland On-Line Internet network. I then moved to Esat and built its data centre capability followed by a stint being responsible for Engineering design and planning for BT across the island of Ireland, building broadband, fibre and voice networks. ECAS is extremely dependent on technology so my experience in software and engineering (I think) equipped me for taking on the role back in 2013. Along the way, I picked up an MBA and a Masters in telecoms.

2. What is ECAS and how crucial is the impact of the work done by ECAS in Ireland?

The Emergency Call Answering Service answers all emergency calls to 999 and 112 in the Republic of Ireland. We handle about 2.5m calls per annum half of which are connected to Garda, Fire, Ambulance and Coast Guard. Apart from routing the calls as promptly as possible, we record the call and also gather the technical data used to establish the location of the emergency as well as information used in the Courts as evidence. Every single call has to be dealt with in the same way and our systems must operate to 99.999% availability 365 days of the year, 24 hours a day.

3. What does your role as Head of Operations entail?

My team of about 80 people, based in Donegal and Meath, runs the ECAS in its entirety. Everything from the operators taking the calls to the management of the customer experience. I am also responsible for the technical and engineering aspects both in life and planned. I am also accountable for delivery of KPIs to Government and to ensure costs control for ComReg, who ensure our money is well spent.

4. How can we continue to improve on our service?

Location is the holy grail of emergency calls. Anything that increases the availability and accuracy of the location of emergencies is of value. More can be achieved through greater use of handset and network derived location as well as the use of eircodes. ‘If we can find you, we can help you’ is our motto. Often callers to ECAS can be under severe stress and find it difficult to give an address or a landmark that could help emergency services to respond. Technology is the perfect way to overcome this issue.

5. How does Ireland compare to other countries in terms on emergency services?

We would be considered one of the best in the world. Our speed of answer is such that usually the caller does not hear a ring tone. In an emergency, seconds are vital to get help to the persons affected quickly. Our use of technology is also very advanced. In particular, through ECAS, Ireland was one of the first countries to adopt the BT-developed standard for Advanced Mobile Location or AML. This has delivered a highly accurate location for emergency calls from mobile phones in around 60% of cases in Ireland and growing.

6. How have you had to adapt to the rapid spike in demand ECAS received during the pandemic?

In the early days of the pandemic, calls rose by 50% and the length of each call rose by 50% leading to a doubling of the workload. Members of the public were also calling 999 and 112 with questions about the pandemic which was not ideal as we are not an advice line. Over time, Government communications – those yellow signs – directed the public to the appropriate Coronavirus advice numbers. What we can see is that the lockdowns do drive calls down, particularly during the week and Friday and Saturday nights are much calmer than usual.

7. From your experience with ECAS, what recommendations would you have for quickly responding and adapting in uncertain times?

There is no point waiting until things happen to come up with a strategy. Plan for pandemics and unusual events in advance. Rehearse and practice those plans as not only does practice make perfect but rarely does the plan work perfectly first time. This also de-stresses your organisation as everyone knows what to do. The ability to work from home for both operational and management staff allows you to spread resources, very beneficial during a health pandemic, so I would recommend developing this capability and utilising a mixture of both fixed and mobile telecoms to spread your risks. Be prepared!

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