Local 911 calls to be picked up in Vancouver

911 calls made from the East Kootenay will soon be sent to a call answer service in the Lower Mainland, rather than Kelowna.

911 calls made from the East Kootenay will soon be sent to a call answer service in the Lower Mainland, rather than Kelowna.

On November 18, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), along with eight other regional districts in the interior of B.C., is moving the answering service from the RCMP’s communications centre in Kelowna to E-Comm, the emergency communication centre in the Lower Mainland.

But the change shouldn’t have much impact on the way 911 calls are dealt with in the region, said Dan McNeill, manager of building and protective services with the RDEK.

“On the surface, nothing changes,” said McNeill.

At the moment, when a 911 call is placed in the East Kootenay, it goes to the communications centre in Kelowna, and from November 18 to E-Comm in Vancouver. The centre then determines whether the emergency should be referred to fire, ambulance or police.

If it is a fire emergency, the communications centre refers the call to Cranbrook Fire and Emergency Services, which accepts all emergency calls for the East Kootenay and contacts the relevant area.

If it is an ambulance that is needed, the communications centre transfers the call to the B.C. Ambulance centre in Kamloops, which will contact the local branch.

If it is an RCMP issue, the answering service refers the call back to the RCMP Southeast District Operational Communications Centre in Kelowna, which contacts local RCMP.

All that will change after November 18 is that the initial call will be taken in Vancouver, rather than Kelowna, before it is transferred to the relevant body.

The RDEK is one of nine regional districts that are making the switch in November, including the Regional District of Central Okanagan.

RDCO chair Robert Hobson said it’s a cost-saving exercise.

“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. That translates into total savings of more than $2.1 million for the program, proportionately shared by the regional district partners,” said Hobson.

“Public safety remains our top priority,” said Hobson.  “E-Comm’s outstanding track record of high quality and reliable 911 answering services means all residents in the affected regional districts can be assured there will be professionally handled, quick response to their initial emergency calls.”

In the southern interior, about 227,000 911 calls were received in 2013.

“We are pleased to partner with the Regional District of Central Okanagan and are committed to ensuring residents of all nine regional districts continue to receive high-quality, responsive 911 public safety answer point service 24 hours a day,” said E-Comm President David Guscott.

“E-Comm is focused on helping to create safer communities in B.C. through excellence in public-safety communication, and we believe that an integrated approach is a key element in achieving that vision.”

E-Comm utilizes top tier technology in a Vancouver building that is secure and purposely designed and built to resist a major earthquake and be self-sufficient for 72 hours. It has a number of backup provisions to ensure the continuity of 911 call answer services for a variety of scenarios.

In 2013, E-Comm received 861,694 emergency calls, answering 98 per cent of them in five seconds or less. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) standard is to answer 90 per cent of all calls within ten seconds.