Emergency call centres being modernized

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The government of Alberta announced changes to the standards for provincial 911 services Aug. 28, which will help call centres prepare for emerging technologies and ensure better service.

“We know that no one wants to have to type out those three numbers [911] into their phone, but when you do, you want to know your call will be answered quickly and dealt with appropriately,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson. “By aligning the processes that all public safety answering points (PSAP) use, these standards will help ensure efficient, consistent…911 services all across Alberta.”

Alberta’s 21 PSAPs, or 911 call centres, receive an average of 4.3 million calls each year. Airdrie is served by a PSAP located in Red Deer.

No matter where you live in the province, you will receive the same service, according to Anderson. The new standards are also intended to ensure the system is ready for new, emerging technologies.

“Alberta’s 911 system has always been very strong. These tweaks will keep the ball rolling forward on an emergency response system Albertans can be proud of, he said. “They’ll be there when people need them the most.”

Alberta’s speech- and hearing-impaired residents are already able to text 911; however, that type of communication will eventually be made available to everyone, said Cindy Sparrow, director of Alberta E911 Advisory Association.

“As a nation, we’re working together,” she said. “Alberta is involved in that, in making sure that our infrastructure is ready for that technology. It is coming in the next few years but we’re not quite there yet.”

Sparrow said being able to text 911 will help people who find themselves in dangerous situations where making a phone call is not possible.

“These standards will also help to ensure that 911 system readiness in Alberta has evolved to the next generation of 911 services,” she said. “In the near future, next-gen 911 will bring a number of changes for call centres across Canada, including infrastructure and technology that will allow different methods of contacting 911.”

The new standards ensure all emergency call centres use common terminology, according to Anderson. Performance targets require calls be answered within 15 seconds and transferred within 60 seconds after answering, 95 per cent of the time. Each PSAP is required to have a back-up plan in the event the system goes down due to an outage or other disruption. PSAPs must put a quality assurance plan in place and perform an annual internal audit.

“PSAPs are vital to our 911 system. They are the first point of contact when you pick up the phone to dial 911 and the people who talk to you need to understand your emergency and then transfer you on to the emergency service that you need,” Anderson said.

The new standards were developed in collaboration with members of the Alberta 911 Association, policing organizations, Alberta Health Services and Telus.

More information about the most recent changes to Alberta’s 911 emergency system is available on the government’s website at alberta.ca

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