A Multi-Media Upgrade is Coming to The 9-1-1 System

The City of Ottawa Emergency Preparedness and Protective Services Committee met on Thursday and reviewed the city’s 9-1-1 call system. The service is provided by civilian employees of the Ottawa Police Service who determine a caller’s needs and relay the information to various emergency services (fire, paramedic, or police).

The Cty of Ottawa’s Public Safety Service manages the contract with Bell Canada for the specialized phone lines the OPS use at the call centre. The current system has been in place for over 30 years but is reaching the end of its service life, and changes are coming.

CRTC has mandated that “Next Generation 9-1-1” technology be implemented nationwide by March 4, 2025. The updated system will be internet based and allow for real-time text messaging to emergency dispatchers as well as 3D map location and image and video sharing.

After the presentation, a concerned delegate asked if the city could upgrade the system so that calls to 9-1-1 could be redirected to other municipalities. The delegate is a long-standing post-secondary educator who stated that he has never received as many emails regarding mental health from students as he had this year. He explained that when an educator, parent, or loved one is concerned that a young person will harm themselves, calling 9-1-1 does not allow for calls to be transferred between municipalities leading to delays that can prevent intervention. Callers often have to contact non-emergency lines in other municipalities where hold times are often long.

When the City Director of Public Safety Beth Gooding took questions from commission members, Councillor Sean Devine asked her about the teacher’s 9-1-1 concern. He inquired if Ottawa residents could call 9-1-1 and ask them to alert the police, say in Toronto, in the case of a mental health crisis. Gooding responded that if a call like this was made, the standard protocol would be to provide the phone number for the Toronto Police Service’s non-emergency response service line.

Councillor Theresa Kavanaugh asked if considerations were being made to send social workers to mental health calls instead of police officers. Gooding responded that the question was out of the scope of the agreement between Ottawa Public Safety and the OPS 9-1-1 operators who triage calls regarding what service is needed. However, Gooding noted that the Public Safety Service is participating in discussions regarding mental health calls.

When the subject shifted to emergency preparedness, Councillor Laura Dudas raised extreme weather events, including snowstorms, the April ice storm, and the windstorm last May, the latter two left much of the city without power for over a week. Dudas asked how many Ottawa residents were prepared for 72 hours without power or necessary aid.

General Manager of Emergency Services Kim Ayotte said there was no metric, but he believed it was relatively low and stated, “I don't think the educational programs out there are hitting enough people” even though the information is provided. Dudas stressed that the city needs to do more to prepare residents for emergencies since they are occurring more often.

The board is scheduled to meet again on June 15, 2023.

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