By Lorena Baires / ISH
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – It takes an average of five minutes for the National Civil Police (PNC) to arrive after they receive an emergency call sent by one of the panic buttons on 600 public transportation vehicles in the San Salvadoran Metropolitan Area (AMSS).
Since last November, vehicles have been equipped with these alarm devices, which send a GPS signal to the PNC’s 911 Emergency Response Center.
“Personnel have been assigned and trained [to respond to calls] from these vehicles so our public transportation can be the safest in Central America,” PNC Director Gen. Rigoberto Pleités said.
Domingo Rubio Peña, a bus driver on Route 79, which stretches from the municipality of Colón in the department of La Libertad to San Salvador, said the system provides security and peace of mind to passengers.
“We start in Lourdes, an area with lots of gang members who commit extortion and robbery,” Rubio Peña, 54, said. “We are not the least bit afraid anymore to press the button so the PNC can catch them in the act. It’s a safe and efficient mechanism. People can have peace of mind when traveling with us.”
Officials plan to install panic buttons on another 1,000 vehicles, according to the Office of the Deputy Minister of Transportation (VMT).
“Not a day goes by that, somewhere in the country, a bus driver or fare collector is not robbed of the fares for the day,” Deputy Minister of Transportation Nelson García said. “With the implementation of the system in the AMSS, we will eliminate this type of crime to practically zero.”
There are 11,400 public transportation vehicles in El Salvador, according to the VMT.
In 2013, there were 5,360 emergency calls for robberies and 9,238 for petty theft in El Salvador. In 2012, 5,459 complaints were filed for robberies and 9,931 for petty theft, according to the PNC.
The majority of crimes on public transportation vehicles occur at peak traveling hours – 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.
The emergency response system works in conjunction with the “Bus Plan,” which consists of 132 elite PNC agents and military personnel from the Special Anti-Terrorist Command, who work undercover on 50 AMSS routes.
“These criminals will not beat us,” Security and Justice Minister Ricardo Perdomo said. “Our obligation is to look after hard-working, honest people and to prosecute and arrest those who break the law or threaten residents. Also, if we want safe, efficient and quality public transportation, we need to modernize it. This is one way of doing that.”
Due to security protocols for the system, the PNC hasn’t released any figures on arrests made using the panic button, PNC Deputy Director Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde said.
“We hope that it’s used more every day because when it has been used, we have intercepted vehicles and made arrests,” he added. “We will continue to encourage bus drivers to use it.”
The emergency response button also is connected to the Single Electronic Ticketing System (SUBES), an automated fare collection system.
The SUBES control center immediately receives emergency alarms activated by bus drivers.
“A GPS link using a phone chip sends a signal every five or 10 seconds from the vehicles, indicating their location in any part of the AMSS,” SUBES Director Eduardo Villanueva said. “Through this system, we ensure the safety of transportation routes and passengers.”