A tree blocks a lane in Surrey after a severe wind storm in late August knocked out power to more than 500

High 911 call fail rate during storm

Non-emergency calls bog down E-Comm system, NDP says review should look at tracking, educating violators

About 40 per cent of attempted calls to 911 rang busy during the major wind storm that walloped the Lower Mainland Aug. 29.

E-Comm spokesperson Jody Robertson said the emergency communications centre had five times as many staff on as usual that Saturday afternoon but the 30 call takers were overwhelmed by the heavy volume of 911 calls, many for non-emergencies, including queries about power outages.

With the winter storm season now approaching, E-Comm and its partner response agencies are continuing to review the summer incident to determine what, if anything, could be done to improve 911 performance.

“Are there any potential technical or operational changes that might help to mitigate the impacts of mass calling events? That’s actively being looked at right now,” Robertson said.

At the peak of the summer storm, E-Comm handled 600 calls in one hour that actually got through, up from a normal 100.

“This was the biggest one time-surge in 911 call volume we’ve ever experienced,” Robertson said.

She said she’s not aware of any true emergencies that were worsened because of any delays in response due to the jammed lines.

E-Comm knew many 911 callers weren’t getting through and took to social media to urge residents not to call unless they had a true emergency.

But numerous calls still flooded in to report power outages, ask when service would be restored or report downed trees that posed no imminent risk.

“Our experience is any time there’s a power outage, even if it’s a small one, we get these calls,” Robertson said.

In California, 911 misuse draws a warning followed by potential fines that escalate from $50 to $250.

But E-Comm staff here make no record of which calls were inappropriate, so there’s no capability to flag those frivolous or nuisance callers for follow-up education or enforcement.

NDP justice critic Mike Farnworth said he’d like habitual violators at least tracked and sent educational information, and to have research done on potential enforcement best practices from other jurisdictions.

“Those are steps you could take,” Farnworth said. “Information being sent out is not a bad idea. For many people, education may be all it takes.”

Heavy call volumes during a major incident can further bog down E-Comm staff because of the protocol they must follow.

That’s because a 911 caller who doesn’t immediately reach a call taker gets a recording instructing them to stay on the line.

Some of them may get frustrated with the wait and hang up, Robertson said, but their phone numbers stay in the queue and the next available operator must then call back to ensure each dropped caller is okay and not incapacitated or threatened.

“That further creates backlog,” Robertson said. “It’s really important that people don’t hang up.”

She was unable to say how much effect that had on Aug. 29, or how many on-hold calls were dropped in addition to the 40 per cent of calls that got busy signals and didn’t connect at all.

Telus deployed diesel backup generators or batteries to keep its phone systems operational, spokesman Shawn Hall said, adding that wasn’t a factor affecting 911 access.

He said public education is key.

“There’s no 911 system in the world that can take thousands of calls all at one time and answer them.”

Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto said the wind storm was a “good wakeup call” and the 40 per cent call failure rate that day was “not acceptable.”

Just Posted

Surrey mayor appoints Terry Waterhouse to oversee policing transition

Waterhouse was hired by the previous Surrey First slate as the city’s first-ever Director of Public Safety Strategies

Surrey councillor defends SOGI 123 stance after resigning from AutismBC

Laurie Guerra stands by her opposition to SOGI 123 resource as backlash over meeting comes to a head

PHOTOS: Hockey history in Surrey as Team India comes to play

Squad played its very first game in Canada on Tuesday against Surrey Falcons

Proposed coal project for Fraser Surrey Docks back in court

It could be months before the federal appeal court renders a decision

Minor injuries for firefighter struck outside South Surrey fire hall

Minor injuries for firefighter struck outside South Surrey fire hall

VIDEO: Amazon to split second HQ between New York, Virginia

Official decision expected later Tuesday to end competition between North American cities to win bid and its promise of 50,000 jobs

Provincial housing boss brought home more than $350,000 in 2017-18

BC Housing develops, manages and administers a wide range of subsidized housing options

Prince Charles turns 70 with party, new family photos

Charles is due to have tea on Wednesday with a group of people who are also turning 70 this year

Calgarians vote ‘no’ to bidding for 2026 Winter Games, in plebiscite

Out of 767,734 eligible voters, 304,774 voted and 171,750 said ”no.”

Kuhnhackl scores 2 odd goals as Isles dump Canucks 5-2

Vancouver drops second game in two nights

Fear of constitutional crisis escalates in U.S.; Canadians can relate

Some say President Donald Trump is leading the U.S. towards a crisis

B.C.-based pot producer Tilray reports revenue surge, net loss

Company remains excited about ‘robust’ cannabis industry

Canada stands pat on Saudi arms sales, even after hearing Khashoggi tape

Khashoggi’s death at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul further strained Riyadh’s already difficult relationship with Ottawa

Feds pledge money for young scientists, but funding for in-house research slips

Canada’s spending on science is up almost 10 per cent since the Liberals took office, but spending on in-house research is actually down

Most Read