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 expect higher call volume when people are on the road and the weather is a bit nicer,” E-Comm communications manager Kaila Butler told Breaking:.
“But right now it’s an elevated increase for the whole year, especially for May.”
E-Comm 911 serves 25 regional districts and provides dispatch service for nearly “99 percent of the county,” Butler said.
The operator received a total of 240,759 calls in May, 39 percent more than in May 2022, with more than 8,300 calls on some days. In the past five months, there have been 21 percent more emergency calls compared to the same period in previous years.
“During the heat dome (in June 2021), which at the time was the highest call volume we had ever experienced, we answered nearly 8,000 calls on some days,” Butler said.
“While (last month we had days with) over 8,300 calls.”
Wildfire, social gatherings, wrong numbers behind increase
Butler says the increased call volumes, which have held steady year over year, may be due to heat and wildfires, and the return of tourism and social gatherings.
“This is really the first year that we don’t see (COVID-19) restrictions… People are exploring, they may face heat-related emergencies,” she said.
She adds that emergency centers have also seen a notable increase in wrong numbers since April, although E-Comm does not currently track the number of wrong numbers.
“We are asking the public to only call 911 if you are dealing with a real emergency that requires immediate police or ambulance personnel,” she said.
She urges anyone who accidentally calls 911 not to hang up immediately, but to stay on the line and have an operator confirm that there is no emergency.
Butler says wildfire season and other weather conditions are leading to an increase in call volume, and urges people not to call 911 for updates during these times.
“There is a special number to call if you witness a wildfire, it’s *555… Sure (911 operators) can help and give the right information and response, but there are better numbers (to reach) the wildfire service ,” she said. .
Press the dispatchers
Donald Grant, president of BC’s Emergency Communications Professionals, says the increasing number of calls is putting more pressure on dispatchers.
He notes that while it’s important that people use the 911 system responsibly, more immediate solutions are needed to address emergency call staffing at E-Comm.
“It raises the question of when sizing properly or increasing the number of 911 operators will be taken seriously,” he said.
“We’re seeing call volume increase dramatically over time, while at the same time demonstrating that our organization is understaffed and underfunded.”