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British Columbians made record-breaking number of 911 calls in May, says operator

british columbians made record breaking number of 911 calls in may says operator

British Columbians made the highest number of 911 calls in E-Comm’s 24-year history in May, according to the emergency communications operator.

“Heading into the summer months we always anticipate a higher call volume when people are out and about and the weather is a little bit nicer,” E-Comm communications manager Kaila Butler told CBC News.

“But at this point, it is a heightened increase for the entire year, particularly May.”

E-Comm 911 serves 25 regional districts and provides dispatch services for nearly “99 per cent of the province,” according to Butler.

The operator received 240,759 total calls in May, 39 per cent higher compared to May 2022, with some days seeing more than 8,300 calls. In the past five months, there have been 21 per cent more emergency calls compared to the same period in previous years. 

“During the heat dome [in June 2021], which at that point was the highest call volume we had ever experienced, we answered almost 8,000 calls some days,” Butler said.

“Whereas [last month we had days with] more than 8,300 calls.”

Wildfire, social gatherings, misdials behind increase

Butler says the increased call volumes, which has been steady year after year, may be due to heat and wildfire, and the return of tourism and social gatherings.

“This truly is that first year we are not seeing any [COVID-19] restrictions in place … People are out and exploring, they may be experiencing heat-related emergencies,” she said.

She adds that emergency operators have also observed a notable increase in misdials since April, although E-Comm does not currently track the number of misdials.

“We are asking the public to please only dial 911 emergency lines if you are facing a genuine true emergency that requires police fire or ambulance response immediately,” she said. 

She requests anyone who accidentally calls 911 to not hang up right away, but to stay on the line and allow an operator “to confirm there is no emergency.”

Butler says wildfire season and other weather events are known to lead to an increase in call volumes, and requests people to not call 911 for updates during these times. 

“There’s a dedicated number to call if you’re witnessing a wildfire, it’s *555 … Certainly [911 operators] can assist and provide the appropriate information and response, but there are better numbers [to reach] the wildfire service,” she said. 

Pressure on dispatchers

Donald Grant, president of the Emergency Communications Professionals of B.C., says the increasing number of calls are leading to more pressure on dispatchers. 

He notes while it’s important for people to responsibly use the 911 system, more immediate solutions are necessary to address staffing levels for emergency operators at E-Comm. 

“It’s raising the question at what point is right sizing or increasing the number of 911 operators going to be taken seriously,” he said.

“We’ve been seeing call volumes dramatically increase over time, all while demonstrating that our organization is understaffed and underfunded.”

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