Telecom 111 call centre reopens

Palmerston North's 111 call centre has been reactivated three years after its closure to accommodate staff evacuated from Wellington's quake-rattled centre on Sunday.

Operator Amy Cayless was in the Featherston St building in central Wellington handling a call for an ambulance when the 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck at 5.09pm.

She connected the call for help before ducking for cover.

"It was pretty scary. It started slowly, then got worse.

"I got under my desk. The computer screen fell over, the ceiling panels started falling, the light panels started swinging, and pot plants were falling over."

Her computer was disconnected.

Incoming calls were promptly diverted to the Christchurch call centre, which usually handles calls from south of Auckland only, and operators were evacuated.

At 5.30am on Monday, Ms Cayless joined a team who travelled to Palmerston North to relieve casual staff who had been called in to reactivate the backup call centre here overnight.

She has packed for three days.

Telecom customer care manager for 111 Leon Tsui said Ms Cayless was one of the first to volunteer.

"It was quite frightening, but you can see the dedication in people like her, who remain calm and quickly respond in a crisis."

Mr Tsui had been at home during the earthquake, and immediately headed to the office to check on staff.

"Going up the stairs, you could see the damage to door frames and ceiling panels."

Engineers were checking the building yesterday to assess whether the structure was damaged.

Team leader Courtney Ratuszny volunteered to go into the Wellington call centre after the quake to help cope with emergency calls, and ended up on the team headed to Palmerston North.

"We will stay as long as needed."

The operators are distanced from the emergency responses in Wellington, as their centre manages calls from northern New Zealand only.

The team at the call centre handled more than 1200 calls from 11.45pm on Sunday until mid-afternoon yesterday. It is three years since the Palmerston North 111 call centre was moved to Wellington, leaving equipment at the former Sitel building in Main St ready to be reactivated in the case of emergencies such as the Wellington earthquake.

Manawatu Standard