Comms Centre: February 2019

Changes recommended for 911 systems
February 01, 2019
Written by Sue Dawson
This is article number four. In past articles, I looked at lessons learned from some tragic circumstances that resulted in an inquest, gave you food for thought on best practice documents and the professionalism of emergency communications, and in September the focus was on avoiding liability. So, where do you go now?

In Ontario, two more inquests recently concluded. Both had a focus on 911 and the functions of emergency services communications centres. Internal reviews start immediately when something like this happens. Changes will have already taken place to try to make improvements for those calling 911, for those answering those calls, dispatching emergency vehicles and first responders.  

Twenty-seven jury recommendations were directed to the Government of Ontario and all municipalities that provide 911 services in Ontario. Some sound familiar, others are new. I have summarized several below:
  • The province should put in place an independent body to provide oversight to all 911 operators, keeping in mind regional differences and service levels.
  • Ensure that private and public 911 communication centres, police, emergency medical services, and fire operate on the same or compatible computer-aided dispatch systems by December 2023 so the sharing of critical information takes place.
  • Establish an inter-operable radio channel for all emergency agencies to use during multi-agency responses.
  • Ensure 911 services within their jurisdictions are appropriately staffed, including supervisors.
  • Review current staffing formulas and suitability of 12-hour shift schedules.  
In a recent Bell Canada presentation regarding 911, it was noted that there were approximately 31 primary and just over 90 secondary dispatch agencies in Ontario. That is a huge number of emergency communications centres that need to consider the impacts of these inquest recommendations and others.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) completed a consultation in 2016. From that, a decision was created regarding implementation and provision of next-generation 911 (NG 911) networks and services in Canada. The document, Next-generation 911, was designed to meet the public safety need of Canadians.

In the CRTC analysis, it was recommended that the provinces and territories that do not currently have 911 legislation in place, or whose 911 legislation could be bolstered, enact appropriate legislation to address issues related to co-ordination, funding, PSAP standards, and public education, as necessary, to assist their PSAP’s in preparing for NG 911

Some provincial governments have established legislation addressing the collection and distribution of funds for 911 primary answering points. They have also taken on oversight and co-ordination in establishing province-wide standards and policies for 911. Ontario has not.  

The CRTC document notes that it viewed the lack of provincial legislation and leadership in Ontario and British Columbia as a significant concern.

If we are trying to meet the public safety needs of Canadians with a world-class communication system how do we accomplish this mandate in places with no funding for communications centres or province-wide standards?

Canadians depend on the provision of reliable and effective 911 services. Whether it be as a recommendation in an inquest or as part of NG 911, something needs to be done.  

Funding, formal policies, comprehensive training, supports for call-takers, dispatchers and supervisors are a few of the big hurdles that are coming our way within emergency communications centres providing 911 and emergency dispatching services.

People who work in the emergency communications field do a very difficult job. Every time the phone rings it could bring a completely different set of circumstances that do not fit nicely into a predetermined call type or a procedure that has been written to assist them in doing their job.


Sue Dawson has been with Barrie Fire & Emergency Service in Ontario in the communications field for more than 30 years. She is the deputy chief of communications and business services. Contact Sue at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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