Public safety compromised by improper use of 911 in Peel; The Rogers outage showed how crucial good communication is
On the morning of February 15, 2019, 911 dispatchers in Peel received nearly 400 calls, including 30 to a hotline, with complaints about an Amber Alert sent late the previous night.
While the callers complained of being woken up or having their television programs interrupted, the Rajkumar family had far more serious concerns.
Riya Rajkumar, 11, was found dead at her father’s house. He had failed to return her to her mother after a pre-scheduled custodial visit. It was his 11th birthday.
Through this Amber Alert, police located the fugitive suspect based on a reliable tip that arrived, sent amid a flood of time-wasting complaints.
Peel Region received 614,933 911 calls last year. A worrying 237,631, or almost 40%, were not valid emergencies, a 6% increase from 2020.
“Mobile technology is a contributing factor, as it provides more opportunities for inappropriate 911 use, such as pocket dialing and short-duration calls,” said one. Peel Region Staff Report Explain.
This problem is not new. Cases like pocket dials have been around since touchscreens first became popular nearly 15 years ago, and complaints about how easily an SOS call can be accidentally triggered on devices like iPhones are rife. With a growing population like Peel’s and near-ubiquitous smartphone use, these time-consuming, potentially life-threatening calls are on the rise. For every pocket number or on-hook call received by 911, a communicator must do their best to reach the caller, in the event of an actual emergency.
(Peel Regional Police)
“At present, there are a total of 133 communicators in the radio room, which includes telephone operators and dispatchers,” says Constable Mandeep Khatra of Peel Regional Police. This contingent of staff is still not enough to keep up with the phones ringing virtually 24/7, and this is starting to impact Peel’s ability to meet the national standards put in place to protect the public security.
According to national standards, Peel 911 communications should answer 90% of calls within 10 seconds. They can only handle this 57% of the time. National standards also state that Peel must connect with callers within 20 seconds, 95% of the time. Peel can only handle this 65% of the time.
Although Peel cannot control the volume of calls, the region can ensure that it has enough dispatchers on duty to help alleviate the significant delays the region is experiencing. With increasing misuse inevitably leading to increased call volumes and, therefore, wait times for residents, the Region is looking to hire more communicators.
The Peel Regional Police (PRP) is responsible for hiring and employing these operators and dispatchers, and from February to May 2021, they hired 12 more at a cost of $1.3 million. After taking into account salaries, training, equipment and other costs, the cost of hiring 25 communicators is $2.9 million. The 2022 PRI budget is $484.9 million.
PRP is currently developing a specific recruitment campaign for Communicators. The Peel Health Commissioner is leading a task force set up by the Energy Services Steering Committee (ESSC) specifically designed to deal with the rising rates of non-emergency calls and associated costs impacting emergency services in the whole region.
“The task force’s goal is to combat the misuse of 9-1-1 through targeted, evidence-based interventions, with particular attention to non-emergency call volume and associated costs impacting emergency services across Ontario. indicates the regional report.
The regional council is trying to tackle the growing risk to public safety with weeks of public awareness, but it is often just one tool needed alongside many others to tackle the growing problem.
As Peel’s population continues to grow, demand on its existing services will continue to increase.
(Region of Peel)
Population growth is a key factor contributing to call volume. Area paramedics planned services based on a 10-year average call volume growth rate of 5.4%. From 2011 to 2021, Peel’s population has grown by 12% (this does not include a significant segment of the population that is not represented in census statistics). With a population growing faster than emergency service employment rates, Peel Region needs more help from the provincial government to deal with the ever-increasing risk.
In April 2022, the Ontario government announced an investment of $208 million over three years to improve the province’s 911 emergency response system, giving municipalities the technology and training they need. to upgrade from the current Enhanced 911 (Analog) to the Next Generation 911 (Digital).
NG9-1-1 will allow communicators to receive text messages, images, videos and, most importantly, track the precise location of an incoming call from a mobile device or VOIP system. With E9-1-1, precise locations could only be found by landlines, which was an effective system until an average of 90% of people in developed countries owned cell phones. Today, it is estimated that more than half of emergency calls are made from devices other than a landline, creating demand for a rapid transition to the new and improved system. Lack of access to specific locations, in particular, has resulted in many tragedies that could otherwise have been avoided if dealt with in time.
(Peel Regional Police)
The new generation 911 has been around since the early 2000s and development began as early as 2003. Compared to today’s advanced location services technologies, including commonly used platforms like Google Maps and Uber, the new generation was slower to implement than expected. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has asked all telecommunications companies to make the change by March 2022. All agencies currently offering 911 service have until March 2025 to fully update all the systems. The general public will still be able to access all 911 services during the transition.
Mobile phones will still connect to the next generation system even without regular service as it runs on a different network. During the widespread Rogers outage on July 8, there were numerous reports of people having trouble connecting to 911.
In addition to the public safety benefits that NG9-1-1 brings, it also improves accessibility. Currently, in most countries, people with disabilities must use a teletypewriter (TTY) to contact 911 if their region and provider support it. Otherwise, they connect through a general operator who must then call 911, or they can access Text9-1-1 (T91-1-1) which is a service that requires registration and proper compatibility with telecommunications companies .
Although this is an improvement over the E9-1-1 system, it is still not an optimal option. Not to mention that it is not available in any of the Canadian territories where there are dense Indigenous populations. NG9-1-1 will inherently support a more diverse population. Often those calling the emergency services are in distress, so being able to pinpoint their precise location, text, send a photo or video of the situation (possibly sending medical records for people in mental distress) will provide Communicators with more accurate information. they must respond effectively.
According to the CRTC, the end goal of E9-1-1 is to make the 911 process more efficient and will lead to “safer, faster and better informed emergency responses.” It remains unclear whether the updated technology included in the transition will make it easier for communicators to report abusive calls or pocket numbers. But it is clear that any effort to save time on emergency response times will help save lives in a hyper-growth region like Peel.
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