The people who answer your 999 calls

Prospect rep Michael Courtney is a manager at one of BT’s six 999 call centres. He talks about how things have changed since the pandemic.

Not many people know that when you dial 999 you will be put through to a BT call centre, where the person who answers your call will then transfer you to the relevant emergency service.

One of those performing this vital role during the coronavirus pandemic is Michael Courtney, a member of Prospect and also a rep.

Michael lives and works in Nottingham with his wife and two girls, aged 10 and 12. His wife is furloughed from her job in manufacturing and he is thankful his girls were not in the age group expected to go back to school at the beginning of June.

He has been a people manager at his 999 BT call centre – one of six across the UK – for 15 years, and seen great changes.

The call centre staff play a key role by filtering out misdials before they even get connected to the fire, police, ambulance or coastguard services in the relevant geographical area.

Stepping up

Michael’s job title is team leader, Voice Services, and his normal duties are to coach and manage people, hold one-to-ones, and ensure calls are handled correctly and safely.

“Because it’s been so busy, I have been stepping in at times to help my team members by taking emergency calls.

“When we get busy, I often take over the main supervisor desk, helping to manage critical call shouts and delays.”

Before the pandemic, busy times included England international football matches, after terrorist attacks and during the Grenfell fire, to name but a few.

Calls go to the first handler available, regardless of which UK centre they are working from.

Since the pandemic people have been stretched, with some employees off work to socially isolate. Michael is helping support new people providing cover.

“The coronavirus situation is unprecedented in that it has been busy for so long. In the beginning, many calls were because of the worry and panic.

“Every time the prime minister did an early evening press conference, things went manic. I suppose that’s understandable in the unknown.

“Now it’s calmed down. We are still getting coronavirus calls, but fewer road accidents as people have not been travelling. Apart from a bit on bank holidays, we haven’t had the usual Friday and Saturday night spikes because the pubs have been closed.”

Workplace safety

A priority for Michael during the crisis has been the safety of the workforce. Because of absences, he has trained new fire wardens.

He is also involved in getting social distancing right. “Now it’s the new norm. Meetings are held at a distance whereas before I used to be close to people. Being close to listen to your team members was what you did.

“We will find a room with a bit more space for a quiet one-to-one and we have a little office downstairs with two seats a good distance away.

“We can’t have people sitting next to each other any more so we are using parts of the room we didn’t use before. We are considering moving some people to another floor as the staff who usually use that space are working from home.”

Do your bit

Michael says that in the early stages of the outbreak he felt guilty about going home after being in contact with people at work. “All my wife wanted on Mother’s Day was for everyone to stay in so she could be reassured that they were safe. My emotions have been mixed as I wanted to be home with the family.

“But now we have the distancing right and I know the importance of coming in to support the centre, my team and the 999 service.

“So I come in, along with many dedicated managers and team members. Please do your bit and keep your distance – and stay at home if you can.

“Stay safe, everyone, and let’s hope normality returns as soon as it is safe to do so.”