April 9 to 15 is set aside internationally to recognize one of the most important (but often overlooked) keys to community safety — our 911 telecommunicators. These men and women serve a key public safety role: answering 911 calls, staffing non-emergency police lines and dispatching police officers. In short, they tell our officers who needs help and where, and they’re the reassuring voice on the other end of the line that gathers information and tells you that help is on the way.
911 is the first truly effective 20th century crowd-sourced technology. Nearly 98 per cent of North America dials 911 to reach emergency services and it’s been a national standard in Canada since the early 1970s. Technology has evolved since those early days; today, VicPD’s 911 operators and dispatchers use cutting edge technology not only to route calls and to take information, but to dispatch officers in real time to anywhere in Victoria or Esquimalt where our help is needed. Our 911 staff are often the first point of contact for those facing a life-or-death emergency. They rise to the challenge, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. In 2015, they helped create 59,154 calls for service and fielded 42,774,911 calls with 92.6 per cent of those being answered in 10 seconds or less.
It’s not surprising that it takes a certain skill set to be an effective 911 telecommunicator. Our team of 45 civilian staff members are trained to gather information and relay that information quickly and effectively. Upon hiring, each team member was required to be able to type a minimum of 60 words per minute (although most exceed that), transcribing information in real time. Our 911 staff aren’t just skilled operators, they’re passionate about our communities, too. They, like many others in the department, volunteer with organizations like the SPCA and Habitat for Humanity.
Many of our 911 telecommunicators have been recognized for going above and beyond. In 2015, two 911 Communications Centre staff were recognized for their roles in two different files. One staff member was awarded a VicPD Civic Service Award for going “above and beyond” in helping locate a missing person in another jurisdiction. Another staff member was honoured with an Inspector’s Commendation for her role in helping resolve a call involving a suicidal man. Our 911 telecommunicators are lifesavers.
Despite all the good work they do, our 911 staff do face a daily peril: the abandoned 911 call. On some shifts, more than 30 per cent of calls will be abandoned 911s. The best thing to do if you mistakenly dial 911 is to stay on the line, and spend a moment talking to our staff. You’ll save time, resources and you’ll help our staff with their award-winning work.