B.C.’s 911 emergency dispatch operators may have to work forced overtime as E-Comm faces critical staffing shortages going into the Canada Day long weekend.
“One year ago today, E-Comm was understaffed in its complement of 9-1-1 dispatchers by over 80 per cent, and this year, we have lost another 20 per cent of the remaining team,” Emergency Communications Professionals of BC president Donald Grant said.
“We are entering the Canada Day long weekend with a fraction of the dispatchers needed to meet anticipated demand, and the current solution is forcing dispatchers to work well beyond their normal four-day, 12-hour shift schedule, which is simply unsustainable.”
Staff have been made to work forced overtime eight times over the past four weeks, including this upcoming weekend. E-Comm said forced overtime is a mechanism provided for in its collective agreement with CUPE Local 8911 and is used in extreme cases only.
E-Comm has long warned of the low-staffing levels. In 2021, the organization commissioned a report that found the current staff of 153 needs to increase by at least 125 to meet operational demands. E-Comm says recruitment efforts have been hampered by “non-competitive wages and severe burnout.”
“This is not how a critical function should be resourced, and it certainly doesn’t meet the expectations of the public who expect someone to answer the phone quickly when they dial for help,” Grant said.
E-Comm call takers are supposed to answer 9-1-1 calls in five seconds or less, police emergency lines in 10 seconds or less, and non-emergency lines in three minutes or less. In the past year, severe staffing shortages have pushed wait times on police emergency lines past ten minutes and non-emergency wait times past two hours in some circumstances.
In an updated statement released Thursday afternoon (June 30), E-Comm said it expects to have enough staff to meet 911 call volumes, but warned of likely extended wait-times on non-emergency lines.
When British Columbians need emergency services, E-Comm call takers are the first point of contact asking callers if they need police, fire or ambulance. Call takers then transfer calls to the appropriate agency. E-Comm also handles emergency and non-emergency call-taking dispatch services for 73 police and fire departments in B.C.
E-Comm asks that people only phone 911 in the case of real emergencies.