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‘Stunned’: 911 operators’ union says E-Comm changes to shorten wait times are ‘unacceptable’

New system would have operators disconnect after transferring callers
911. (Black Press Media files)

The union representing 911 operators in B.C. said they are “stunned” by Wednesday’s decision that they will leave callers alone on a line while they move on to take other calls.

CUPE Local 8911 president Donald Grant said that the decision goes against what operators are trained to do and “every common sense approach” to how 911 services are operated.

“Until now, our operators have never disconnected before voice contact is made, because our role is to ensure that critical information isn’t lost during the transfer,” Grant said, calling the move a stop gap measure when what the system actually needs is local government cash and a change to how the service is funded altogether.

Grant cited a recent report commissioned by the agency behind B.C.’s 911 system, E-Comm, from Price Waterhouse Coopers, that found the service could not be successful while understaffed.

The union head added that while 911 operators are indeed not able to give medical advice, they still play a key role with callers in a medical emergency.

“This is not about being medically trained—it’s about being on the line and available to reassure callers in distress. We’re talking about human beings experiencing real emergencies, and to abandon them during their time of need is simply unacceptable,” said Grant. “You can imagine the worst-case scenario that can happen while waiting alone on the phone in your time of need.”

The union added that the severity of a medical emergency can change quickly while callers are still waiting to speak to B.C. Emergency Health Services, including having the individual lose consciousness in which case the operator would need to relay their information to the ambulance service.

READ MORE: New 911 system aims to increase number of calls E-Comm operators can take


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