SEPA’s Contact Centre – Expecting the unexpected

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Expect the unexpectedFrom green bath water to false teeth disposal, some of the emergency calls received by the SEPA Contact Centre (SCC) over the years have been bizarre, bewildering and often far-removed from our intended role. With humour in mind, the SCC team has highlighted a number of the more unusual calls received that are good examples of why we always expect the unexpected.

In our role as Scotland’s principal environmental regulator, protecting and improving Scotland’s environment, we deal with thousands of public enquiries each year. These enquiries are received by e-mail, through our website and by phone, and many are relatively routine Freedom of Information enquiries about environmental facts and figures, while others include reports of suspected regulatory breaches or environmental incidents. In 2014, the SCC – operating a continuous 24-hour service – received more than 73,000 calls and in the past year it has been noted that we received a relatively high number of unusual calls to our emergency line.

Calls received

jonAmong the bizarre calls received, that on reflection now raises a smile or two within the SCC team, was one from a mother who rang the emergency number frantic that her bath water had turned green.  On closer analysis of the situation, it emerged that the woman’s teenage daughter had spiked her mother’s shampoo bottle with a rather lurid shade of hair dye.

One member of the SCC team clearly remembers his most unusual example, ‘My strangest call was from a guy asking if he could burn his house down.  It turned out he needed to have it demolished as he was building a new house on the spot and thought that burning it down would be cheaper than having it knocked down. I told him to speak to the Fire Service.’

karen anneOn occasions, although the emergency calls we receive may be unexpected, the actual incidents can hardly be described as ‘unusual’. Amongst the SCC staff favourites, is the alert made by one concerned citizen who reported a funny smell coming from a petrol station. ‘The smell was like diesel fumes’, the caller reported.

One elderly gentleman rang for tips on how to dispose safely of an old pair of false teeth and another call was taken from a singing group who asked if their annual party would have any environmental health implications. We have also had a lady reporting slugs in her kitchen! Another caller asked if SEPA would come out to his house to check his fridge as he believed it was a biohazard because it had been switched off for 3 months. He was very concerned about airborne hazards.

Gary2We may all have absent-mindedly left a household tap running at one time or another, but one of our more unusual calls puts such a faux pas firmly into perspective. A caller from a small, well-known island in North Ayrshire reported that that the release valve for the island’s reservoir had been opened and the person who had opened it had left the island, forgetting to leave the key to allow it to be shut off again.

The SCC team have also observed that unusual nocturnal calls are not uncommon. As one team member explains, ‘We often receive a variety of non-SEPA related enquiries or requests for assistance from the public at night. For example, complaints about the noise of amorous seagulls at Leith docks, hair in a kebab, a lice-infested sofa, dripping showers, burst pipes, gurgling central heating boilers and about unsolicited calls from mobile phones within people’s pockets or handbags. We have even had a complaint from the owner of an end-of-life vehicle which had been scrapped who believed SEPA was sending him demands for road tax for the vehicle.”

Providing excellent customer service to all

The sheer volume of calls we receive means that, more often than not, there are occasions when our SCC representatives need to respond with a particularly high level of sensitivity, tact and diplomacy. Above all, we strive to ensure that the calls received, no matter how bizarre or un-related to our role, are handled in a professional and courteous manner to ensure that our customers receive the best possible support or referrals. To do this we are always primed to expect the unexpected.

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