Anyone making an emergency 911 call today will have their call answered by a new dispatch centre, but the change has been so seamless that no one should notice.
The change came about as South Island municipalities moved from a grouping of regional call centres to a centralized call-taking and police dispatch service offered by E-Comm 911.
E-Comm, also known as Emergency Communications for British Columbia) started the transition on Jan. 22 as it began to bring on a few municipalities at a time. On Feb. 5 that transition was completed when 11 RCMP detachments, including Sooke, were brought into the fold.
“For the public, nothing really changes,” said Sgt. Clayton Wiebe, a spokesperson for Sooke RCMP.
“We used to get dispatched out of the center on the West Shore, and now those calls go to E-Comm. But if you call in on an emergency, you’d see no difference.”
Jasmine Bradley, E-Comm’s corporate communications representative, said that the new centre is part of an overall shift to E-Comm’s services in B.C.
“With the new centre on the Island, we are now at 99 per cent of all 911 calls in B.C. coming through one of our call centres,” Bradley said.
And while the shift may have no obvious impact on any single emergency call, Bradley stressed the expanded number of highly-trained operators will eliminate a backlog of calls that might queue up in a serious incident.
“Incidents like a serious multi-vehicle incident, structure fire or any natural emergency (like an earthquake or wildfire) can generate large numbers of calls and that’s when backlogs occur,” Bradley said.
One difference, which will not be noticed by the public using the service, is that there will now be a difference in the way police calls are handled as opposed to ambulance and fire rescue calls.
“When you call 911 you will be asked if you are trying to contact police, fire, or ambulance,” Bradley said.
“If it’s police, you get transferred to the dispatch system right at E-Comm, but if it’s an ambulance or fire call, the call gets transferred to the same dispatch service that has been in place to this point.”
Bradley said all operators at the new E-Comm facility are cross-trained to address any emergency and that many of those staff is the same operators who picked up calls under the old system.
“We have, generally, 12 to 15 call-taking and dispatch staff on shift at E-Comm’s Vancouver Island emergency communications centre and we use a complex formula to determine staffing levels based on average call volumes. For example, because we know Friday and Saturday nights, special event nights and holidays are busier than, say an average Tuesday, we will staff up accordingly,” Bradley said.
Established in 1997 under the provincial Emergency Communications Corporations Act, E-Comm is owned by the municipalities and public safety agencies it serves.