Federal radio spectrum allocation great news for public safety
First responders and public safety organizations across the country welcomed the Federal Government’s recent budget announcement to designate an additional 10 MHz of radio spectrum and $3 million to begin developing a broadband wireless network dedicated to public safety. This means a full 20 MHz of Canada’s 700 MHz broadband spectrum is being allocated exclusively for the establishment of a national public safety broadband network (PSBN), which will enable secure, high-speed, wireless access to information and multimedia services over a wide area. Ultimately, this will mean first responders will have enhanced communication tools to help them save lives, protect property, solve crimes and increase responder and public safety.
“The allocation of additional spectrum is a significant milestone and will ensure we have the capabilities needed to serve the public and first responders as emergency communications needs evolve for the future.”
E-Comm Vice-President of
The PSBN will be built to provide enhanced operational capability for first responders, including the ability to receive text, data, audio and video through secure mobile devices, similar to smartphones used by the public. The new network will also enable Next Generation 9-1-1 technologies that will be introduced in the coming years, resulting in greater capacity and more secure information-sharing among police, fire, ambulance and other emergency service personnel. Because its access and use will be limited to public safety agencies, critical information will be able to be sent and received even when public networks are overloaded, which happens frequently due to the proliferation of smartphones being used by the public at large-scale events (e.g. sporting events or major fires, etc.). Funding is expected to commence in 2016 for a two-year period to support coordination, development and administration activities associated with the creation of the national PSBN.
“The allocation of additional spectrum is a significant milestone and will ensure we have the capabilities needed to serve the public and first responders as emergency communications needs evolve for the future,” explained E-Comm’s Vice-President of Technology Services Mike Webb. “Not having to compete with the public for the same network capacity as we do today will be particularly important to our first responders during large-scale events, in which massive amounts of mission-critical data, such as photos and videos, need to be transmitted,” Webb added.
From a longer term perspective, the PSBN will be able to integrate with E-Comm’s next generation radio system (scheduled to be completed by end of 2017), extending the communications services provided to E-Comm’s radio partners to additional users, devices and geographic areas.
E-Comm has been an early and active participant in liaising with the provincial agencies and stakeholders involved with the establishment of the PSBN. The emergency communications centre will continue to collaborate with the Canadian Interoperability Interest Group and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and Paramedic Chiefs of Canada in submitting responses to Industry Canada’s public consultation for the next steps in establishing the network.
9-1-1 text service for hearing/speech impaired expands to more communities
Northern Vancouver Island is now the second region in B.C. to provide people with hearing and speech impairments with the ability to communicate with 9-1-1 call-takers through a special text service called T9-1-1. The service is provided by E-Comm—the 9-1-1 answer point serving Comox Valley, Strathcona, Mt. Waddington, Alberni-Clayoquot and Powell River (excluding Lasqueti Island), in addition to a portion of the Nanaimo Regional District (School District 69).
North Island 9-1-1 Corporation President Larry Samson, whose organization oversees 9-1-1 service on northern Vancouver Island, says T9-1-1 provides a better way for the hearing and speech impaired to communicate with police, fire and ambulance call-takers in an emergency. “I encourage residents with hearing or speech impairments to register for T9-1-1 with their wireless providers and to learn how the service works and what to expect if they need to use it.”
“T9-1-1 is an important service for our community and we want to make sure people know that it exists and that they feel comfortable using it in an emergency.”
Head of Interpreting Services for WIDHH
When E-Comm receives a 9-1-1 call from a person who is Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing or Speech Impaired (DHHSI) who has pre-registered for the service, an alert will trigger at the 9-1-1 centre to indicate there is a DHHSI caller on the line. The 9-1-1 call-taker will then launch the special messaging system, allowing them to communicate with the caller through a text session. This will ensure they get the emergency service they need.
E-Comm was the first 9-1-1 call centre in Canada to launch T9-1-1 and has been working closely with the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH) to help raise awareness and understanding of the service since it was first launched in Metro Vancouver in 2014. The two organizations have collaborated on a number of initiatives to explain how T9-1-1 works, how to register and in the event of an emergency, understand what to expect. These educational materials, including a user guide and registration tips, are available free of charge at ecomm911.ca. A step-by-step video in American Sign Language (ASL), which was released in May in support of Speech and Hearing Awareness month, is also available on E-Comm’s YouTube channel.
“T9-1-1 is an important service for our community and we want to make sure people know that it exists and that they feel comfortable using it in an emergency,” explains Janice Lyons, head of Interpreting Services for WIDHH. “The video produced by E-Comm includes detailed information that I—as a Deaf person—was able to interpret into ASL to better explain how the service works.”
The video explains how to register and how the system works including the need to dial 9-1-1 first like any other caller in order to establish a voice network connection. This will provide 9-1-1 call-takers with critical information such as the caller’s telephone number and general location. It also allows call-takers to listen to background noises which can be very helpful in assessing an emergency situation.
For people without hearing and speech impairments, voice calling remains the only way to communicate with 9-1-1 services as T9-1-1 is available only to members of the DHHSI community. Text messages sent directly to the digits “9-1-1” will not reach emergency services anywhere in Canada. Text to 9-1-1 for the public-at-large is anticipated in the future as the nationwide 9-1-1 infrastructure evolves.
Members of the DHHSI community should visit TextWith911.ca to register their cellphones with their wireless service provider and to learn more about how the system works.
We were delighted to welcome E-Comm’s shareholders and partners to our Annual General Meeting (AGM) in June to report back on our 2014 strategic, operational and financial highlights. It was also an opportunity to reflect on the many public safety achievements realized through the support of our partners since our start-up 15 years earlier. From service expansion to technological improvements and a name change, 2014 was another year of transformation and growth for E-Comm. We witnessed many emergency communication initiatives continue to advance, including major milestones related to the Next Generation Radio Program and expansion of 9-1-1 call-answer partnerships. Our 2014 Annual Report to the Community provides a complete overview of the year along with our service and financial results.
2014 also marked our third year of operation under our long-term strategic plan, Vision2020. Our Board of Directors has played a critical role over the past several years in advancing public safety initiatives within our plan and shaping our vision of safer communities in B.C. through excellence in public-safety communication. On that note, our sincere thanks to the directors who recently retired from our board and a warm welcome to the new directors appointed by our shareholders at our recent AGM: Mayors Jack Froese and Richard Walton, councillors Raymond Louie and Mary Trentadue, and directors Anne Kinvig, Jack McGee and Kathy Steegstra.
E-Comm’s services and scope have grown considerably over the years. We are confident that with the leadership of our Board of Directors we will continue in our mission to deliver exceptional emergency communication services that help save lives and protect property.
There are many exciting 2015 public safety initiatives underway in addition to longer-term projects like the replacement of the regional radio system (Next Generation Radio Program) and the evolution of 9-1-1 infrastructure. We will continue to provide updates in future issues of e-communiqué.
E-Comm 2015-2016 Board of Directors
Independent Director, Board Chair
City of Vancouver
Mayor Jack Froese
Township of Langley, Cities of Surrey and White Rock
Fire Chief Len Garis
Township of Langley, Cities of Surrey and White Rock
Councillor Raymond Louie
Independent Police Boards (Port Moody, West Vancouver, Transit Police, Abbotsford, New Westminster)
Councillor Bill McNulty
City of Richmond
Ministry of Justice
Corporation of Delta / Delta Police Board
Ministry of Justice
Vancouver Police Board
BC Emergency Health Services
Councillor Mary Trentadue
New Westminster, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Belcarra
Mayor Richard Walton
District of North Vancouver, City of North Vancouver, District of West Vancouver, Village of Lions Bay
Our sincere thanks to our retiring Board Directors:
Mayor Mike Clay, Port Moody
Ernie Daykin, Maple Ridge
Councillor Diana Dilworth, Port Moody
Councillor Bill Lawrence, White Rock
Linda Lupini, BC Emergency Health Services
Mayor Darrell Mussatto, City of North Vancouver
Sheldon Stoilen, Independent Director
“Burning the box” at the BC Fire Conference and Expo
Fire experts and public safety organizations from across the province gathered in Penticton in June for the annual Fire Chiefs Association of BC Conference and Expo, to discuss new and innovative ways of improving firefighter safety and protecting communities. The theme for the event was aptly named “Burning the Box,” a way of challenging participants to go beyond just thinking “outside the box.”
The expo was the largest exhibition of fire service equipment and technologies in the Pacific Northwest and provided an opportunity for attendees to network, share information and showcase new and future technology related to fire safety and response. Representatives from E-Comm were on hand to demonstrate the organization’s fire dispatch and management technologies, including E-Comm’s emergency management event viewer, known as E2MV. It allows agencies to share information in real time for both routine events and in major situations such as wildfires, floods or earthquakes.
The timing of the expo also coincided with a number of technology enhancements related to E-Comm’s Fire Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that are in development. In June, the CAD and fire information records management system (Project FIRES) used at E-Comm will be able to share information between the two systems and generate digital location data. It will also allow for the implementation of GPS-based dispatching.
“GPS dispatching will further enhance response times as the CAD system will know the location of a fire apparatus in real-time,” commented E-Comm’s Director of Fire Services Dave Mitchell. “This means if an engine and its crew are out at a drill or another event, the system will ensure the next closest available unit(s) are available to respond. This will be particularly useful for our agency partners who are looking to share resources over geographical boundaries in response to various incidents,” Mitchell added.
A pilot project will begin shortly to test GPS dispatching before it is offered to E-Comm’s fire partners. A number of other Fire CAD project initiatives are estimated to be completed before the end of this year.
Additional information about the Fire Chiefs Association of BC is available at fcabc.ca.
Emergency response exercise “Gemini” takes off at YVR
Vancouver Airport Authority’s largest training initiative to date was held in the Spring, and involved more than 600 participants and 27 agencies including first responders, Airport Authority staff, business partners and social services along with representatives from E-Comm’s operations and communications departments.
The federally-mandated exercise tested first-responder processes and provided an opportunity to practise large-scale, integrated emergency response plans with partners and airport operations. The exercise scenario—titled “Gemini”—involved a commercial aircraft, carrying 134 passengers, landing on the runway and crashing into a private aircraft crossing the same runway. To provide as realistic a setting as possible for participating responders on the ground, aircraft wreckage was set on fire, and a “family and friends zone” was also set up to simulate the care and dissemination of information needed during an emergency of this magnitude.
“Emergency response exercises like these illustrate the important role first responders have in large-scale emergencies and also reiterates how crucial it is to be prepared and have a plan.”
E-Comm Team Manager
“Emergency response exercises like these illustrate the important role first responders have in large-scale emergencies and also reiterates how crucial it is to be prepared and have a plan,” explained E-Comm Team Manager Michele Hennessey. “Having the opportunity to work through a realistic disaster response scenario in collaboration with our partners was a great way to focus on inter-agency procedures and communications.”
Participating agencies utilized combined radio channels including a patch to the YVR channel when inter-agency discussion was required. This ensured all groups could communicate on a common channel and demonstrates the benefits of interoperable communication protocols in the event of a major incident.
E-Comm designated two dispatchers—one police, one fire—to the exercise and participated in the event while continuing to manage real emergency calls.
Reunification was a major focus of the exercise and dealt with the challenges of relaying information to the appropriate individuals, managing the influx of people at YVR and directing family and friends who were awaiting the arrival of loved ones. Emergency management personnel tested the patient tracking system and triaged patients to different locations. Canada Border Services also had the opportunity to obtain the manifest to process passengers on the international flight.
Communication departments from various agencies, including E-Comm, also participated in the exercise by issuing news bulletins and information updates through mock social media channels.
Emergency exercises are a key part of the Airport Authority’s Emergency Management Plan and are performed on a regular basis. Scenarios include live scenario training, table-top exercises and emergency simulation drills. The next full-scale exercise will be held in 2017.
Interoperability Working Group plans for the future
Emergency services within Metro Vancouver have formed a working group composed of representatives from police, fire and ambulance, to establish best practices for radio interoperability in anticipation of the deployment of the region’s new radio system. Interoperability is essential to first responder and public safety because it allows emergency personnel to communicate between jurisdictions, disciplines and varying levels of government using a variety of systems.
A radio interoperability plan is integral to the success of any large radio network in order to ensure that responders using the system know how to access communication links with first responders from multiple jurisdictions and agencies. In addition to creating a plan that will suit the unique features of the next generation radio system E-Comm and partners will implement by the end of 2017, the new Interoperability Working Group will be responsible for establishing training protocols and exercising the plan. Familiarity with how and when to utilize radio interoperability capabilities is critical to both responder and public safety.
Inextricably linked with interoperability is encryption, which will be implemented by all agencies on the next generation radio system to enhance privacy and security of communications. Anytime encryption is employed, the interoperability plan must take into account the encryption plans for different agencies as well as the interoperability talk groups that agencies use to talk to each other both on a day-to-day basis and during extraordinary events.
“We’ll be creating an interoperability plan that supports the unique needs of Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford and will likely be a blueprint for the rest of Canada.”
Chief John McGowan,
With the implementation of a new radio network a little more than 24 months away, the endeavours of the working group are paramount. A great deal of effort will be required to produce the plans necessary to ensure that the network can provide the agencies using it with seamless interoperability and the highest level of service.
The group, chaired by Richmond Fire-Rescue Chief John McGowan, currently has 21 members and is meeting monthly. “The working group will conduct research and reference interoperability plans shared by our American counterparts that will support the successful rollout of the new radio system,” says Chief McGowan. “We’ll be creating an interoperability plan that supports the unique needs of Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford and will likely be a blueprint for the rest of Canada.”
Further updates on the working group will be included in upcoming issues of e-communiqué.
E-Comm in the community
Q2 service results and stats
April – June 2015
9-1-1 service levels
9-1-1 calls placed to E-Comm*: 318,775
Service level achieved**: 97%
* Total number of 9- 1-1 calls are for Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast Regional District, the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, Whistler/Squamish and 18 regional districts in the Northern, Southern and Central Interiors and Northern Vancouver Island.
** Service Level Target: 95% of all 9-1-1 calls answered in five seconds or less.
Monthly number of 9-1-1 calls and service levels available online.
Number of 9-1-1 calls from landlines and cellphones
Landline: 110,210; 35%
Cellphones: 208,565; 65%
9-1-1 calls directed to police, fire and ambulance
9-1-1 availability: 100%
Radio network availability average: 99.993%
Number of radio transmissions: 33,200,281
Radio system air time (seconds): 127,671,559