No local impact predicted for 911 change

This fall, 911 calls will be routed though Vancouver rather than Kamloops.

This fall, emergency 911 calls will be answered over 600 kilometres away but Greater Trail residents aren’t expected to see a change in response time.

Beginning in November, 911 calls from nine districts, including the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), will be handled by E-Comm, a 911 and emergency dispatch service in Vancouver.

Terry Martin, Kootenay Boundary Fire Department chief, says the switch is going to be only a slight change and both callers and firefighters won’t notice a difference after 911 is dialled.

“When you dial 911 and you get an operator and right now, that call is answered in Kelowna. The only difference is that it is now going to be answered in Vancouver,” he said, adding that the fire department will be receiving calls the same way it always has.

“We are referred to as a secondary safety answering point and [Vancouver] will still forward the 911 call – if it’s for the fire department – to us in the same amount of time, in the same manner as they would from Kelowna. We are not going to be seeing any difference in [response time]. It is going to be a seamless change.”

Chief Administrative Officer for RDKB, John MacLean, confirms the change will be unnoticeable to callers and local emergency services, and will actually save the district a few dollars every year.

“It’s mostly a lateral change and is actually representing a small cost decrease to us of around $16,000 to $20,000 per year, which we think is pretty good news,” he said.

For the districts affected by the change, Robert Hobson, chair of the Regional District of Central Okanagan, the current home to the RCMP’s 911 call answering service, says over the next five years, millions of dollars will be saved.

“By contracting our 911 service to E-Comm, over the five-year agreement, the regional districts will see a 25 per cent reduction in overall program operating costs,” he said in a press release. “That translates into total savings of more than $2.1 million for the program, proportionately shared by the regional district partners.”

Not to worry, the E-Comm 911 answering system isn’t going affect call priority either. MacLean says the new system will still allow individual emergency services to determine call priority.

“They are not responsible for call priority,” he said. “Their sole responsibility is to answer that first call. They are the folks that say, ‘fire, ambulance or police?’ and if you say ‘police,’ then they put you through. They are just a flow through. If you called 911 right now, it would be answered in Kelowna and they would say the same thing. If you said ‘ambulance,’ they’ll hit a button and you would be talking to ambulance dispatch in Kamloops. If you said ‘fire,’ they would hit a button and you would be talking to us in Trail and if you said ‘police,’ you would stay in the same place, because right now it is the RCMP picking up 911 calls.”

In 2013, E-Comm answered 861,694 calls from the areas currently using the service and with the addition of the nine districts making the change to E-Comm’s 911 answering service – The Regional Districts of Okanagan, North Okanagan, Okanagan-Similkameen, Thompson-Nicola, Columbia Shuswap, Central Okanagan, Central Kootenay, Squamish-Lillooet, East Kootenay and the local Regional District of Kootenay Boundary – they will see a call volume increase of nearly 230,000 according to 2013 statistics.