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New call transfer process aims to address strains on British Columbia’s 9-1-1 system

Vancouver, B.C.—Effective today, E-Comm is implementing a process change that will help free up 9-1-1 call takers so they can answer and handle incoming emergency calls more quickly. The new process will allow E-Comm call takers to disconnect from callers waiting on the line for the ambulance service, making them available to answer other 9-1-1 calls faster – not just for ambulance, but also for urgent police and fire calls which combined make up 70 percent of all 9-1-1 calls.

When an individual dials 9-1-1, an E-Comm call taker is the first point of contact. The call taker immediately transfers the caller to the requested police agency, fire department or, when an ambulance is needed, to BCEHS. The established process requires the E-Comm call taker to wait on the line with the caller until they have been connected to the requested emergency service agency. Under normal circumstances, this transfer time averages 45 seconds, but due to higher call volumes and increased demands on the ambulance service, it is taking much longer for callers to be connected to an available BCEHS call taker.

“The extended wait times are continuing to result in significant delays for British Columbians calling
9-1-1, which is also difficult for our call takers who are being tied up and are therefore helpless to assist others,” explains Oliver Grüter-Andrew, President and CEO of E-Comm. “This new process puts the safety of all British Columbians first – and we believe this change will take some pressure off the emergency communications system that will allow our staff to potentially help save more lives.”

Leading up to today’s announcement, E-Comm’s leadership team has been working closely with BCEHS to help resolve call-transfer delays. BCEHS and E-Comm have implemented measures to separate potentially life-threatening calls from less-urgent emergencies, among other process changes to better manage calls. As well, BCEHS is adding new positions in their dispatch centres and are confident the boost in their staffing will help to meet the increased demand. Both organizations are continuing to carefully monitor call-answer times and make service adjustments, as required.

However, due to the extraordinary strain on emergency services and the need to increase capacity within the 9-1-1 system to ensure calls are answered quickly, E-Comm has introduced this new process with the full support of BCEHS.

“We are now at the point where new measures are required to ensure our staff are able to answer 9-1-1 calls as quickly as possible,” adds Grüter-Andrew. “Our call takers are not medically trained, nor are they authorized to provide medical advice to callers waiting on the line for the ambulance service, so freeing them up to answer other emergency calls means we are able to help more people.”

As part of this new process, callers will be advised that they are in the queue for ambulance and that the 9-1-1 call taker needs to disconnect so they can answer other incoming calls. It is important to understand that this change will not have any impact on the availability of BCEHS call takers or ambulance response times.

E-Comm and BCEHS leadership will be carefully evaluating this call transfer process to ensure 9-1-1 services are able to be delivered more quickly and effectively. This process is temporary to ensure 9-1-1 service level targets are consistently being met and both organizations will revisit the need for this measure on a monthly basis.

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E-Comm fire dispatchers earn national teamwork award

A national public safety organization has recognized E-Comm’s response and coordination to the massive fire that engulfed the New Westminster waterfront in September 2020.

Each year, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials Canada (APCO Canada) recognizes teams and individuals across the country who demonstrate excellence, leadership and passion for what they do.

E-Comm’s 32-member fire call-taking and dispatch team has won APCO Canada’s 2021 teamwork award for the E-Comm team’s sustained efforts over 12 days, as fire crews worked to extinguish the New Westminster Pier Park fire.

The blaze started on September 13, 2020 and initially generated 98 9-1-1 calls within the first 10 minutes. The stubborn fire created thick, black toxic smoke that sparked numerous air quality-related medical calls across the region.

Over nearly two weeks, the E-Comm fire dispatch teams coordinated mutual aid for the New Westminster Fire & Rescue Services along with four other fire departments (Richmond Fire-Rescue, Delta Fire Department, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services and Burnaby Fire Department) and numerous other stakeholders. Despite high demands and unique processes placed on them, the E-Comm fire teams met National Fire Protection Association standards and continued to provide excellent service to the public and E-Comm’s 40 fire agency partners.

“On behalf of our entire community, congratulations to E-Comm’s fire dispatch teams on this recognition for the outstanding and sustained response to last year’s fire at Westminster Pier Park,” said New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Cote. “The response underscores the importance of collaboration across agencies in emergency response and the pivotal role E-Comm plays in ensuring that happens.”

“The support we received from E-Comm dispatchers through coordination of mutual aid during a prolonged and challenging fire situation on our waterfront meant our crews could focus on the task with the knowledge that our community was protected,” said Deputy Fire Chief Curtis Bremner, New Westminster Fire & Rescue Services. “Congratulations to the entire team at E-Comm for this well-deserved recognition.”

“Teamwork is an essential component of E-Comm’s mission to deliver exceptional emergency communications services in B.C.,” said Oliver Grüter-Andrew, E-Comm President and CEO. “I am proud of how our fire call takers and dispatchers worked together and stepped up to manage day-to-day activities along with the ongoing and coordinated response to the New Westminster Pier Park fire.”

E-Comm received the award during a virtual presentation at the APCO Canada 2021 Conference and Trade Show on October 28.

Members of E-Comm’s award-winning fire dispatch team.

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About E-Comm
E-Comm is the first point of contact for 9-1-1 callers in 25 regional districts in British Columbia and provides dispatch services for more than 70 police agencies and fire departments across the province. E‐Comm also owns and operates the largest multi‐jurisdictional, tri‐service, wide‐area radio network in the province used by police, fire and ambulance personnel throughout Metro Vancouver and parts of the Fraser Valley.

About APCO Canada
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, Canada, Inc. is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the enhancement of public safety communications. It serves the people who supply, install and operate the Emergency Communications Systems used around the Country from coast to coast to coast. Members come from every type of public safety organization in the country, including 9-1-1, police, fire and emergency medical services as well as emergency management, disaster planning and federal search and rescue personnel.

9-1-1 is a lifeline, no matter what language you speak

In recognition of Global Diversity Month, E-Comm is reminding British Columbians that they do not need to speak fluent English to call 9-1-1. In fact, E-Comm received 1,669 calls to 9-1-1 requiring help in 36 different languages in 2020 alone.

Of those calls, 32 per cent required interpretation services in Mandarin and 25 per cent required interpretation services in Punjabi. From Cantonese, Spanish, Farsi and Arabic to Thai, Cambodian and Greek, the broad range of requests for interpretation illustrates the significant diversity of callers in British Columbia.

With Punjabi being one of the most requested languages for interpretation, we asked our Police Call Taker Jay to help share his top tips for non-English speaking callers in both English and Punjabi. Watch Jay’s video below.

As British Columbia grows increasingly more multicultural, it’s important that we recognize the diversity of the people who call our province home—for us, this means educating diverse communities on 9-1-1 and ensuring that everyone is equipped to get the help that they need in an emergency.

Oliver Grüter-Andrew, E-Comm President & CEO: addressing 9-1-1 wait times due to ambulance transfer delays

Vancouver, B.C.—E-Comm wishes to acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is for British Columbians, in a time of need, to be faced with call delays when requiring urgent assistance from emergency services.

The current issue regarding 9-1-1 call-taking delays is directly related to the staffing levels at BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the provincial organization responsible for ambulance call-taking and dispatch.

It is important to understand that when an individual calls 9-1-1, they are initially connected to an E-Comm call taker who immediately transfers the caller to the requested police agency, fire department or, when an ambulance is needed, to BCEHS. The E-Comm call taker must wait on the line with the caller until they have been connected with the requested emergency service agency. Unfortunately, over the past several months, E-Comm has experienced continued and consistent delays in attempting to transfer calls for ambulance to BCEHS. This has resulted in significant delays on the 9-1-1 lines as our staff are unavailable to answer other incoming calls, not only for ambulance, but also for urgent police and fire response.

Overall, E-Comm has enough staff to be able to handle current 9-1-1 call volumes and answer these calls quickly and efficiently, provided agencies are able to accept call transfers in a timely manner. The staffing challenges at BCEHS mean our call takers are having to spend a significant amount of time on the line with callers, waiting for them to be connected to BCEHS. When all 9-1-1 call takers are waiting to transfer calls, this means other incoming 9-1-1 calls (whether for ambulance, or police and fire) have to wait to be answered until our call takers have been freed up.

This is an incredibly serious issue that has been difficult not just for the public, but also for our staff who are forced to wait on the line with callers in medical distress, while seeing that other incoming 9-1-1 calls are on hold as a result. E-Comm staff do not have the training or the authority to provide medical guidance and therefore the stress of this situation – both for our staff and members of the public in critical need – is extremely difficult.

One of the challenges these delays are creating is that callers are hanging up and calling back on 9-1-1 after reaching a recorded announcement during transfers to the ambulance service. We urge the public to please stay on the line, as hanging up and redialing will further tie-up the system. You will get help faster by staying on the line.

The risk to public safety as a result of the BCEHS delays is of serious and growing concern to our organization. E-Comm will continue to offer what assistance we can as BCEHS works to find an immediate solution to this matter.

E-Comm announces 2021-22 Board of Directors with new seat for Vancouver Island

Vancouver— E-Comm’s Board of Directors has grown to 22 members with a new seat representing the central and southern Vancouver Island region.

Earlier this year, the E-Comm Board amended its Members Agreement to include a new Board member, now that E-Comm operates the 9-1-1 call-taking and police dispatch centre in Saanich. That facility, built by the Capital Regional District, opened in 2019.

Victoria Police Department Deputy Chief Constable Colin Watson will serve on the E-Comm Board as the Vancouver Island director, nominated by the Capital Regional District and E-Comm’s southern Vancouver Island police agency partners.

Overall, E-Comm shareholders have named four new Board members (a fifth new member will be named later). The remaining Board members are returning for another term. E-Comm confirmed the Directors today (Sept. 23) at its Annual General Meeting held online for the second year in a row because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doug Campbell returns as Board Chair, a position he has held since 2016. During today’s meeting, Campbell acknowledged these are difficult times for emergency communications and first responders.

“To say this summer was extraordinary in terms of the demand and strain on emergency services in B.C. is an understatement,” said Campbell. “From record heatwaves and devastating forest fires to staff shortages, those who answer and dispatch emergency calls across all sectors have been stretched to the limit. And, the ongoing pandemic has not made things any easier.”

Campbell said the E-Comm Board fully supports efforts across all emergency services providers to work on solutions to improve emergency response times for the public.

The Board of Directors is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategic planning and direction, finances and operating results. Management is accountable to the Board of Directors for day-to-day operations and administration.

E-Comm shareholders and other stakeholders nominate Board members who provide extensive knowledge and experience to the company through their work on the Board and as members of the Board’s standing committees.

2021-2022 Board of Directors

Directors Nominee of
Aniz Alani City of Abbotsford
Lois Karr RCMP
Joe Keithley Cities of Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Village of Belcarra (Seat 1 of 2)
Melanie Kerr  City of Delta/Delta Police Board
Warren Lemcke Vancouver Police Board
Nancy McCurrach* Cities of Burnaby, New West, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, Village of Belcarra (Seat 2 of 2)
Jen McCutcheon Metro Vancouver and TransLink
Nicole MacDonald* Cities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows
Bill McNulty City of Richmond
Paul Mochrie City of Vancouver
Tara Richards Provincial Government
Mark Sieben Provincial Government
Richard Walton City of North Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, District of West Vancouver, Village of Lions Bay
Terry Waterhouse Cities of Surrey, Langley and White Rock, Township of Langley (Seat 1 of 2)
Colin Watson* Capital Regional District and E-Comm’s Southern Vancouver Island police agency partners
Mike Welte Independent Police Boards (Abbotsford, New Westminster, Port Moody, Transit Police, West Vancouver)
Ed Wolfe* Cities of Langley, Surrey and White Rock, Township of Langley (Seat 2 of 2)
Vacant* BC Emergency Health Services

A new representative for BC Emergency Health Services is to be named later.

Independent Directors nominated by the E-Comm Board

Doug Campbell Board Chair
Barry Forbes
Nancy Kotani
Denise Nawata

*new directors appointed on September 23, 2021

 

Media Contact

media@ecomm911.ca
604-215-6248

 

About E-Comm

E-Comm is the first point of contact for 9-1-1 callers in 25 regional districts in British Columbia and provides dispatch services for more than 70 police agencies and fire departments across the province. E‐Comm also owns and operates the largest multi‐jurisdictional, tri‐service, wide‐area radio network in the province used by police, fire and ambulance personnel throughout Metro Vancouver and parts of the Fraser Valley. For more information about E-Comm, please visit www.ecomm911.ca.

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