The City of Pitt Meadows is putting out a call to rescue the ailing 911 emergency dispatch system in the province.
Coun. Nicole MacDonald, who is running for mayor of the city in the Oct. 15 election, and is a former first responder with the Vancouver Police Department, said the provincial government needs to get involved in both funding 911, and making sure the system is functioning well.
“It’s your lifeline to help when people are in crisis,” she said. “It needs a major revamp, and it needs support and funding.”
Pitt Meadows is asking other cities to support this position, and council has proposed a resolution to be considered by the Union of BC Municipalities. It will be voted on at the 2022 UBCM convention on Sept. 14-16 in Whistler.
Despite the fact 911 is an essential health service, MacDonald said there is no provincial agency in B.C. responsible for the planning, operation and coordination of these services, and funding falls on cities.
Vulnerabilities in the system have been highlighted by high call volumes created by the opioid crisis, and a huge number of calls for overdoses, MacDonald said. There have been dropped calls, delays, and long waits for ambulances caused by failures in the 911 system, she said.
“The expectation across the province is if you need help, you call 911, but that’s not always working,” she said. “We have reports from Pitt Meadows residents about ambulances not coming, or ambulance delays.”
“We see it as a provincial issue.”
She said dispatch issues are compounded by low paramedic staffing levels.
The resolution is (in part): “…that UBCM call on the provincial government to develop a new provincial mandate and structure for 911 service delivery, with an improved governance, funding and operational model, to help modernize and improve 911 services across BC, including the planning, operation and coordination of CRTC-mandated Next Generation 911 services.”
The resolution references the federal government’s mandated roll-out of “Next Generation” 911 (NG911) to move calls to digital or IPbased infrastructure by March 1, 2025. That will require additional investment.
MacDonald noted the UBCM has in the past lobbied for small cell phone levies to fund 911 service, with resolutions in 2004, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2019 and 2021. So far, there are no such fees on cell phone bills.
Currently, 911 services are primarily funded by property taxes, and MacDonald noted the province should share the financial burden, especially given that ambulance service is run by the province’s own BC Emergency Health Services.
“We’ve got a system where the governance and funding is not working,” said MacDonald. “We need provincial funding.”
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