Vancouver (Laura Ballance) – As the Canada Day long weekend approaches, British Columbia’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatch operators have received an alert from E-Comm, the agency that handles 9-1-1 calls for 99 per cent of the province – advising that critical staff shortages are anticipated.
In a message to all staff, E-Comm notified 9-1-1 dispatchers that the organization may have to resort to forced overtime again in order to meet minimum staffing levels, beginning Thursday, June 30th thru Saturday, July 2nd.
“We have entered a critical situation,” says Emergency Communications Professionals of BC President Donald Grant. “One year ago today, E-Comm was understaffed in its complement of 9-1-1 dispatchers by over 80 per cent, and this year, we have lost another 20 per cent of the remaining team. We are entering the Canada Day long weekend with a fraction of the dispatchers needed to meet anticipated demand, and the current solution is forcing dispatchers to work well beyond their normal four-day, 12-hour shift schedule, which is simply unsustainable. This is not how a critical function should be resourced, and it certainly doesn’t meet the expectations of the public who expect someone to answer the phone quickly when they dial for help.”
When British Columbians face an emergency situation, E-Comm’s 9-1-1 operators are the people at the other end of the phone line who connect them with police, fire, and ambulance. They also perform dispatch and answer the calls for 33 police and 40 fire departments. But the system’s ability to respond has been critically impacted by insufficient staffing levels, caused by an inability to recruit, and retain staff due to non-competitive wages and severe burnout.
A 2021 report commissioned by E-Comm conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers concluded that the organization cannot be successful with an understaffed system that relies so heavily on overtime and staff missing breaks or that simply abandons efforts to meet service levels. The report suggests that the current roster of 153 full-time call takers needs to increase by 125 to meet operational demands.
E-Comm call takers are supposed to answer 9-1-1 calls in five seconds or less, police emergency lines in 10 seconds or less, and non-emergency lines in three minutes or less. In the past year, severe staffing shortages have pushed wait times on police emergency lines past ten minutes and non-emergency wait times past 2 hours in some circumstances.
E-Comm is a multi-municipality agency that provides emergency communications operations for British Columbia. The company coordinates 9-1-1 service for police, fire, and ambulance service, providing call-taking and dispatch services for multiple agencies. E-Comm’s service area covers Metro Vancouver (from Lions Bay to Langley), the Sunshine Coast Regional District, the south Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, and the Whistler–Howe Sound and Fraser Valley Regional District areas. The company provides call-taking for all participating municipalities, transferring incoming calls to the appropriate agency.
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