Upgraded services at the new police dispatch call centre may result in the encryption of police dispatch calls, barring the public from hearing them. (Wikimedia Commons)

Emergency dispatch channels to be encrypted by 2020

A switch to digital channels offers more security for first responders, but less public information

The general public will soon lose access to police dispatch calls as channels become encrypted.

Upgraded services at the newly operational South Island 9-1-1/ Police Dispatch Centre include a $24.5 million upgrade to the dispatch equipment. The switch to a new digital system, called P25, by the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications Incorporated (CREST) promises more reliable technology, better audio clarity and further coverage.

However, with the switch comes a security update which will encrypt emergency dispatch channels, barring the public from listening to police scanners.

READ MORE: Emergency radio communications upgrades will be ready in the new year

“Really the push is privacy and security,” said Gord Horth, general manager of CREST. “I do appreciate it’s going to hamper the media to respond as quickly, but it seems to be where the world is going.”

Fifty users will come on board with the new system, including many branches of the RCMP, which Horth said is the main advocate for encryption.

“The big push is from a federal mandate,” Horth said. “The RCMP is the lead push on this so the challenge is if you want to talk to people, they won’t talk unless it’s encrypted…That means things like fire departments get pulled along.”

ALSO READ: Front-line stress and trauma – are Island first responders prepared?

While emergency responder safety is important, a total blackout puts the public in danger, argues Howie Allan, a police scanner enthusiast who runs the popular Facebook page “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?”

Allan’s page, with more than 11,000 members, advises the Greater Victoria public about police scanner information, including traffic collisions and missing persons updates.

“That will kill us,” Allan said. “All the news people, everyone is worried about it.”

Allan said he’s aware of the need for police safety, but that freedom of information is also important.

“Ninety-nine per cent of us listening to scanners are helping police,” he said, adding that the group has helped police find missing people. “Plus it’s good to know when an accident occurs so we can avoid the area… Who wants to hear about an accident three days later?”

Horth said CREST will need to wait for all 50 parties to come on board with the new system before encryption will begin, and estimated the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020 to be a likely time frame.

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com


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