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

December 1, 2021, 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.