The British Columbia government is investing millions to upgrade the 911 calling system, allowing for location tracking of callers and texting during emergencies.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says the $150-million investment will upgrade the aging system to the Next Generation 911 system and make it more compatible with evolving technology.
Oliver Gruter-Andrew, the CEO of E-Comm 911, which handles most of B.C.’s emergency calls, says the funding is a game-changer for the public safety agency.
He says operators will be able to precisely track the location of a caller, receive a text in an emergency, and have new options on how they respond to people needing mental health support.
Up until now, local governments have been the main funders of the 911 service, but Gruter-Andrew says the looming financial costs have been daunting for cities and municipalities.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has mandated the implementation of Next Generation 911 and the decommissioning of current 911 networks in Canada by March 2025.
E-Comm is experiencing staffing shortages and there have been delays for those needing help during an emergency, but Farnworth says that isn’t the focus of this announcement.
“This is about upgrading the technology that allows the individuals at 911 to be able to do their job,” he said. “So, it will be an improvement in the service, at the same time as other work (is) underway with E-Comm in terms of staffing and the operations side.”
Gruter-Andrew says the new technology will make a difference to staffing requirements.
“Staffing pressure is the highest challenge for E-Comm and so many other agencies, whether it’s in the first responder world or elsewhere,” he said during the announcement Wednesday at Firehall No. 1 in Saanich, B.C.
“I see this as a fundamental platform build on which we can develop solutions that will help us with the staffing crisis as well as other challenges.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2023.