Vancouver, B.C.—As part of today’s Great British Columbia ShakeOut drill, E-Comm is reminding people that they should only call 9-1-1 during a natural disaster if it is a life-safety emergency.
“One of the most important ways people can support emergency services after an earthquake, large or small, is to help keep 9-1-1 lines free for life-safety emergencies—situations where immediate help from first responders is required,” says Jody Robertson, E-Comm’s director of corporate communications. “Call-takers are there to help people and lives are put at risk when 9-1-1 is treated like an information line.”
Following the 4.7-magnitude earthquake that was felt across much of southwestern B.C. on December 29, 2015, the emergency communication centre was flooded with 9-1-1 calls. In the 15-minute period following the quake, call-takers handled 318 emergency calls, an increase of 1500% compared to normal call volume for that time of day.
“I was working that night and the calls that I took were not emergencies,” says E-Comm 9-1-1 call-taker Megan Wong. “People were calling with questions or statements like: Was that an earthquake? My whole house just shook. Will there be more tremors?” Wong goes on to explain that “as a 9-1-1 call-taker my job is to help people with emergencies and that’s why it’s so important to me that we get the message out that when people call 9-1-1 for information or any other reason that is not an emergency, they’re tying up valuable resources.”
Robertson adds “while E-Comm understands that people may feel frightened or unsure what to do after an earthquake, the message we want to send is that 9-1-1 resources are finite and lines need to remain open to those with true emergencies. There are many great sources of information available that don’t involve calling 9-1-1, such as: PreparedBC, the Government of Canada, Emergency Info BC and other non-emergency resources including government websites and their social media feeds and local media.”
E-Comm also has information available on its website—ecomm911.ca—including tips for dialing 9-1-1 after an earthquake and the right channels to turn to for information and updates. The website also has information on how people should be prepared in the event of a natural disaster, such as the basics of an emergency kit and links to emergency preparedness websites.
E-Comm operates the largest multi-jurisdictional, tri-service emergency radio system in the province and is the largest 9-1-1 call centre in British Columbia, handling approximately 1.35 million emergency calls per year for Metro Vancouver and 24 other regional districts and communities spanning from Vancouver Island to Alberta and from the U.S. border, to north of Prince George. E-Comm also provides call-taking and dispatch services to 35 police and fire departments in southwest B.C. For more information visit https://ecomm911.ca/.
Audio clips from 9-1-1 call-takers on Dec. 29, 2016.