Misunderstood alarm was in fact due to a language problem at control room

Was there really a poor connection when, in December, an English-language report of an incident involving a toxic substance was misunderstood by the control room? That was the conclusion of an evaluation, the UG stated in January. However, that evaluation never took place.

Faculty council member Anouk Lubbe expressed concern in the Faculty of Science and Engineering council meeting last December. She was present when a PhD student called the control room about a toxic substance being spilled at Nijenborgh 4. The person on the other end of the line did not understand the English-speaking PhD candidate and thought someone had been pricked by a needle. Lubbe warned that this was the second time this had happened.

A month later, a spokesperson for the UG reported to UKrant that the matter had been evaluated, and there was only ‘noise on the line’. This was caused by the PhD using an international number to call the emergency line. There was no language issue because the UG had made agreements on this with the contracted third party supplying staff for the control room.

Clear recording

Lubbe was bewildered to hear this. ‘It was a Dutch phone number and a Dutch phone’, she said in the faculty council meeting. ‘I listened to the recording together with the head of emergency response, and it was perfectly clear.’

Furthermore, no one had spoken to the PhD student who made the report or to the emergency response team. So what was this evaluation the spokesperson referred to?

‘Strange indeed’, agreed managing director Esther Marije Klop. She, too, had read about the supposed evaluation in UKrant with surprise. ‘I had been sick, so I went through my emails to see if I had missed that evaluation.’

Simple English

Where did that story come from? ‘There were different sources’, says spokesperson Elies Wempe-Kouwenhoven. But there had in fact been no evaluation.

That has since changed. The UG has talked to G4S, the security company the university hired, as well as the safety officer involved and the UG’s internal safety manager. ‘We’ve established that the person who took the report did not understand the English spoken on the phone. That is 100 percent certain.’

The contract requires that employees in the control room speak and understand English at level B1 at least – ‘simple English’, says Wempe-Kouwenhoven. ‘But we can never fully verify whether people meet these demands. From now on, though, extra attention will be paid to the language requirements.’

Protocol adjusted

When problems with the language do occur, the control room will send an emergency response team member to the location, in order to assess the situation.

Lubbe believes this is sufficient. ‘I don’t think it’s feasible to expect people in a control room to be fluent in English’, she says. ‘But this is a good method that I have confidence in.’

Klop is also satisfied with the measures that have been taken. ‘Of course, it remains crucial to keep a close eye on this. This kind of thing must not go wrong.’

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