The Emergency Response Center (Häirekeskus) has seen dozens of volunteers coming forward to staff the 1247 information line, and seeks to boost that pool in future ahead of potential crises, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday night.
The 1247 line was set up last year as a coronavirus-only information line, but since the new year has expanded to become the general public information line.
Volunteers are used mainly because hiring paid workers quickly during crisis time then laying them off, while possibly needing to rehire later, is not practical, the center's head, Kätlin Aleva, told AK.
The figures speak for themselves, AK reported – during the spring coronavirus wave last year, when the 1247 line was new, it average a few thousand calls per day, dropping to around 150 per day on average during the summer lull, only to rise to around 700 per day in the fall.
New restrictions can lead to spike in calls to 1247
Shorter-term peak times include when new restrictions are announced or in the run-up to their coming into force, AK reported.
Last fall, the center found 120 volunteers, but now seeks 80 more.
The center wants this larger pool not only against any future rise in coronavirus rates, but also to retain help even if and when the pandemic ends.
Kätlin Aleva said: "Crises worldwide have not gone anywhere. The next crisis can hit us in any sphere of life, and at this point we urgently need volunteers to help people either share or receive information or issue recommendations on actions."
Some callers just seeking reassurance
One volunteer, Anne Ensling, told AK that: "The most difficult and interesting thing about this job is that it's like taking an oral exam every day. Every so often you take a new ticket (i.e. number assigned to a waiting caller – ed.) and you never know what that ticket will bring."
The beginning of the autumn wave was worst, she added, as the virus began to spread again, particularly with outbreaks in workplaces and schools, and some callers were panicking, she said.
Ensling, who has been a volunteer at the center since October, added that often people just need reassurance, rather than anything very specific, and the line has almost become a source for travel information also, for instance what regulations will apply if the caller travels outside Estonia then returns.
1247 is not an emergency number – that number is 112 for making emergency calls to the police, fire service, coastguard and ambulance service.
1247 remains the coronavirus hotline, but also provides information on environmental and road traffic questions in particular, for instance members of the public who see a downed power line or a larger wild animal hit by a car should call 1247.
The rationale in choosing the number was simply "1", followed by 24/7, i.e. it works round-the-clock. Calls to 1247, including from landlines, are free. The number replaced the old 1313 general information line, which is now defunct.
Other useful information lines are (+372) 634 6630 for general medical advice, and (+372) 5301 9999 for consular assistance.
1247 provides its information in English, as well as Estonian and Russian. Those interested in volunteering should visit the emergency center's site here.
Editor: Andrew Whyte