When not to call 9-1-1
Info on earthquakes, broken gym lockers cited as examples of when not to call 9-1-1
E-Comm wrapped up its public education efforts in 2016 with two campaigns focused on the serious impact non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 have on public safety resources. The overarching message of both campaigns was that emergency resources are finite and each time a call is made to 9-1-1 for a matter that does not require immediate assistance from first responders, lives are put at risk.
In the first campaign, E-Comm supported the Great British Columbia ShakeOut drill by highlighting its experiences during the 2015 earthquake. Call-taker Megan Wong worked during the 4.7-magnitude quake that was felt across much of southwestern B.C. She spoke to the media about the types of calls she answered and stressed the importance of re-directing questions and requests for information to official sources in order to keep 9-1-1 lifelines free for real emergencies.
“The calls that I took that night were definitely not emergencies,” said Wong. “People were calling with questions or statements like: Was that an earthquake? My whole house just shook. Will there be more tremors?” Wong went on to explain that “as a 9-1-1 call-taker my job is to help people with emergencies and that’s why it’s so important to me that we get the message out that when people call 9-1-1 for information or any other reason that is not an emergency, they’re tying up valuable resources.”
“The calls that I took that night were definitely not emergencies.”
Following the earthquake, E-Comm was flooded with hundreds of 9-1-1 calls in just 15 minutes—a 1500% increase over normal call volume for a typical Tuesday night. Because the vast majority of those calls were information requests that unnecessarily tied-up call-takers’ time, E-Comm stressed the importance of having a personal preparedness plan and directed people to its website for tips on dialing 9-1-1 after an earthquake and the right channels to turn to for information and updates.
A broken gym locker and a query about job opportunities topped E-Comm’s annual list of reasons to not call 9-1-1—part of the emergency communications centre’s continued public outreach. Issued in December, the purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness about nuisance calls to the emergency line and the impact they have on emergency resources. Dispatcher Jim Beland and call-taker Chris Faris answered the top two nuisance calls of 2016.
“Our job is to treat each call as an emergency until we can determine otherwise. We want our time reserved for people who need help because they have a legitimate emergency.”
“I’d like to be able to say that calls such as the ones on our top-ten list are rare, but unfortunately this isn’t the case,” explained Beland, who took the gym locker call. “Our job is to treat each call as an emergency until we can determine otherwise, and this takes time. We want our time reserved for people who need help because they have a legitimate emergency.”
Faris added that “unfortunately, we do get a lot of people who call 9-1-1 thinking it can be used as an information hotline. We get a lot of calls that start off with ‘this is not an emergency but…’ and that’s a concern when we know there are other people out there who need our help.”
The kinds of calls highlighted in both campaigns are also not appropriate for the non-emergency line, as they are not police matters. That message was also emphasized in an effort to not tie-up those lines as well.