B.C. residents could soon call, text and send location information videos to 911 dispatchers.
Canada is currently in the process of updating its emergency services to expand the functions of 911. The new functions could allow cell phones, apple watches and IP-based calling devices to contact emergency services in addition to using landlines and payphones.
On Sept. 20, members of the Union of B.C. Municipalities sat down at their annual meeting in Vancouver to discuss how they want these services rolled out across B.C. and to urge the province to provide more funding.
Next Generation 911, or NG911, is a digital internet protocol system that will replace the analog 911 infrastructure that has been in place for decades.
The project is a delayed Canada-wide undertaking seeking to modernize emergency call-taking by allowing texts, photos and video submissions.
An estimated $60 million has been provided by the province and will be administered by UBCM on behalf of the Ministry of Citizens’ Services.
According to E-Comm 911 CEO and president Oliver Gruter-Andrew, the upgrade has been discussed for years, but only some municipalities have utilized the services due to costs. However, when the system receives more widespread availability, the technology will be rolled out in a phased fashion, increasing the availability gradually as privacy concerns regarding who will access the information are still being deliberated.
The system has been growing in demand as many community leaders are considering expanding additional “mental health” options besides the typical, such as police, fire, or ambulance.
Adding factors such as voice calls and video may compound the emergency communication responders’ work, which must be filtered through when extracting information.
UBCM members voted in favor of more funding to support the proposed technology. However, they highlighted that dispatchers and emergency communication responders are still burning out in high numbers and would require better working conditions before the job becomes even more intense by assessing and distributing sensitive information from potentially traumatized people.