911: who ya gonna call?
As published in MapleLine Magazine: November 3, 2010
SOOKE, BC. A degree of mystique surrounds the ubiquitous 911 call. A voice answers and before you know it, the help that you requested has arrived. A system of complex communications and specially trained people works behind the scenes to make this response possible.
So where does your call go? On Vancouver Island there are three operational communications centres (OCCs) – in Langford, Nanaimo and Courtenay. Handled at the West Shore RCMP detachment in Langford are all 911 calls from Sidney-North Saanich, Sooke, West Shore, Outer Gulf Islands, Saltspring, and Central Saanich. Greater Victoria and Saanich calls are covered by municipal police.
The operator needs to know the details of the emergency. “It is crucial that callers not only stay on the line but that they really listen to the operator’s instructions,” says Carolynn Clifford, acting manager for the OCC. “People in stressful situations often just start talking once they make contact with a 911 operator. But the operator must ask certain questions to ascertain the information necessary to assess the call and the type of help needed.”
Over 40,000 files were created for legitimate 911 calls at the West
Shore OCC in 2009. “Not every call has a file created,” says Clifford.
“Once the operator determines the validity of the call, a file can be
started. Prank calls and misdials are not recorded as valid 911 calls.”
In Sooke the detachment will send an officer to each home where a ‘false
positive’ has occurred in case the call was interrupted unintentionally,
according to Sooke RCMP S/Sgt Steve Wright.
A 911 operator will ask if the caller needs police, fire or ambulance. For police, calls remain with the operations centre where appropriate detachments can
be notified. Fire and ambulance calls are transferred to appropriate fire or ambulance dispatch centres.
Information received on four computer screens depends on the call’s origin. “A call from a landline phone will give us a location by address including the originating phone number,” says Susan Leah, shift supervisor. “Cell phones show an approximate geographic location. The more useful information from a caller, the better. The operator asks you certain questions for a reason,” says Leah. “They want to ensure that you get the right kind of help in the quickest, safest manner for all concerned.”
Information collected by OCC is transmitted to the call responders on in-car computers. If multiple services are required the operator contacts fire and/or ambulance by phone from the OCC.
Operator trainees go through an intensive 6-week course at the Pacific Regional Training Centre (PRTC) in Vancouver. This is followed by two to three months of on-the-job training with a supervisor before being signed off to answer and assess calls on their own. Operators must deal with whatever comes their way, making effective split-second decisions. “Shifts are 12 hours long – four days on, four off,” Leah says. Cross-cover shifts come in at 9 am and 11 am. During 11 am to 3 am there are four operators in the centre*. Long weekends can be busy but call volume doesn’t have much of a pattern. “A weekday afternoon can be busier than a Friday night,” Leah muses. MM
Karen Laharty is a writer for MapleLine Magazine, and a graduate of the MapleLine Journalism Program.
See other RCMP information: Sooke Police Beat
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