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Sooke library to install sensors in bathrooms for medical emergencies

Island Health funds safety enhancements to address drug crisis impact on libraries
The Sooke branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library will soon have sensors in bathrooms to detect medical emergencies. (Black Press Media file)

The Sooke branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) will have sensors installed in bathrooms to detect medical emergencies this summer.

The initiative follows a successful pilot project at the Nanaimo Harbourfront branch, considered an at-risk location due to the ongoing toxic drug crisis.

“Communities across Vancouver Island are deeply affected by the toxic drug crisis,” said mental health and addictions minister Jennifer Whiteside. “Libraries face unique challenges as they strive to be safe, welcoming spaces for everyone. With these new sensors, medical emergencies can be identified and responded to promptly."

The motion-detection sensors monitor washroom occupancy and movement. If a stall remains inactive for a set period, a text notification is sent to designated responders, including security guards and library staff.

“The sensor is not looking for movement – it’s looking for lack of movement,” said Jason McConnell, VIRL’s divisional manager of health and safety.

McConnell emphasized the unique challenges libraries face due to the drug crisis.

"We're seeing upticks in the types of hazards and risks that we're being exposed to. We're seeing more frequent events," he said.

While the Nanaimo pilot hasn't yet identified any toxic drug poisonings through sensor alerts, the program offers broader benefits.

Public washrooms in libraries are some of the few freely accessible facilities in many areas, and these sensors will help staff manage these spaces more efficiently while enhancing user safety, according to Emily Mathews, VIRL's assistant director for experience and engagement.

The project, dubbed Brave Branches, is funded from Island Health's Resilience and safety grant program. Sensors have also been installed at other VIRL branches in Courtenay, Campbell River and Port Hardy.

Kevin Laird

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