Help Us Help: Protecting our province’s emergency resources


The 9-1-1 system as it exists today was designed to handle every day emergencies—but when the extraordinary becomes the ordinary, as British Columbians witnessed in 2021 with widespread weather events across the province and multiple ongoing health crises, this adds its own element of strain to the system. When increased demand leads to record-breaking call volumes, education becomes a key tool to help safeguard these vital resources by ensuring the public are always reaching out to the right resources for help.

While the critical role first responders and local governments play in public safety is clear, the important contributions of the general public can sometimes be overlooked. By knowing when to dial 9-1-1 and keeping these lines free for emergencies, people experiencing life or death situations can get the help they need faster. Recognizing this, E-Comm’s Communications and Public Affairs team launched the 9-1-1 Pledge during this year’s Emergency Services Dispatchers’ and 9-1-1 Awareness Week, as an important platform to not only educate the public, but also empower them to take action to protect their communities. As COVID restrictions limited events and in-person activities, the need to engage with communities on a virtual platform became more prominent. This Pledge is one of many online tools which offers British Columbians the opportunity to connect with E-Comm in a meaningful way that both educates and encourages the appropriate use of 9-1-1.

In addition to the hundreds of accidental calls E-Comm receives on emergency lines on a daily basis and the notorious nuisance calls that tie up these lines, another concerning pattern has emerged related to misuse of the police non-emergency lines. An internal study conducted in mid-2021 showed that close to 40 per cent of calls received on police non-emergency lines were not valid police matters and needed to be redirected to more appropriate resources for help. Although education efforts through E-Comm’s Make the Right Call campaign are ongoing, call takers continue to field calls that aren’t police matters. For example, E-Comm call takers field many calls that are actually more appropriate for city bylaws like calls about dumped garbage or parking concerns. E-Comm provides information on its website about these alternative resources to call for needs relating to by-law concerns, hydro enquiries and other non-police matters in an effort to ensure these lines also remain accessible to those who need them.

As events and in-person presentations resume, the opportunity for E-Comm to build relationships and trust within the communities that it serves grows. From speaking to children about learning their address to connecting with community policing partners, every chance to engage with the public means even one more person who can help share E-Comm’s public safety messaging far and wide.

After navigating three states of emergency last year, it was reinforced how integral community relationships are in helping to protect valuable emergency response resources. During weather events and service level challenges, having E-Comm’s critical messaging amplified by those who follow the organization online played a huge part in reducing call volumes and reminding the public how and when to use the system.

E-Comm may be the first point of contact for most 9-1-1 callers across British Columbia, but without its police, fire and ambulance partners, there would be no first responders to help in emergencies. And, without the community groups who help champion E-Comm and its important public safety messaging, British Columbians would not have the tools and the knowledge they need to make the right calls.