“This lifeline is in crisis and has been for quite some time.”
That’s how Emergency Communications Professionals of BC (CUPE8911) President Donald Grant describes the current situation 9-1-1 call takers are in.
“Because of severe underfunding and understaffing in recent years, 9-1-1 operators have seen the service deteriorate as emergency calls take priority over non-emergency calls,” Grant said.
“It has sadly become ‘the new normal’ to see five-minute hold times on emergency lines and hours-long wait on non-emergency lines.”
Grant added it wasn’t until the system was pushed past its limit during the 2021 heat dome that many began to see the dangers of a critically understaffed system.
The firm Price Waterhouse Coopers found that the current roster of 153 full-time call takers needs to increase by 125 to meet operational demands. A more than 80 per cent increase.
“In the last quarter of 2021, E-Comm experienced call volumes that were 22 per cent higher than the year prior,” Grant said.
“By April this year, we had lost another 20 per cent of that team, and an unprecedented 28 per cent are of staff are on leave. Those of us who remain are working more overtime, and more frequently, forced overtime, to meet minimum staffing levels.”
Grant said the problem is a lack of funding.
“Communities of all sizes and varying needs pay into the system, but because many have other priorities, the funding bounces based on need, responding to cyclical catastrophes,” Grant said.
“The other problem is that we are losing some of our most skilled operators to agencies that pay better, sometimes significantly better, or have manageable workloads.”
The union is calling on all levels of government “to make a significant investment to fix this issue for good.”