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B.C. eyes $150M spend for 911 upgrades, including texting

Upgrades to provide new options for British Columbians to reach emergency services
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Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announces B.C.’s $150-million investment to fund upgrades to province’s 911 emergency communication system during a press conference at a fire hall in Saanich. (Austin Westphal/News Staff)

Emergency responders could soon be a simple text message away for British Columbians as the province looks to transition to Next Generation 911.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said at a press conference Wednesday (March 1) at a fire hall in Saanichs that the province is spending $150 million as it works alongside municipalities to upgrade what’s been described as an aging 911 emergency communications system — one that’s becoming increasingly incompatible with evolving technologies.

“When people experience a life-threatening emergency, they need to know they can count on an accessible and reliable 911 system,” said Farnworth.

Improvements to the countrywide Next Generation 911 will give people the choice of reaching 911 dispatchers through new means, like real-time text, and allow operators to pinpoint callers’ exact locations. People with disabilities will also be able to use different text media to interact with operators.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has mandated the implementation of Next Generation 911, as well as the decommissioning of current 911 networks by March 4, 2025.

E-Comm 911 president and CEO Oliver Gruter-Andrew said the high cost of rolling out the federally mandated upgrades would be difficult for local governments - which are responsible for their own 911 services - to fund by themselves.

E-Comm, which answers 911 calls for 25 of 27 regional districts in B.C. and handles 99 per cent of the province’s total 911 call volume, is spearheading Next Generation 911’s implementation in most municipalities.

The province’s $150-million spend, still pending approval by the legislative assembly, will help offset local governments’ costs for transitioning to Next Generation 911, including $90 million provided to E-Comm for technological upgrades and $60 million to the Union of BC Municipalities.

“Working together with municipalities, regional districts and First Nations to improve emergency communications is vital to enhancing public safety for people living in and travelling through the most remote parts of the province,” said Citizens’ Services Minister Lisa Beare.

While Wednesday’s announcement won’t necessarily mean an improvement for the long response times plaguing the BC Ambulance Service, according to the province, upgrades will facilitate more coordinated reponses in emergency situation.

ALSO READ: What you need to know about the B.C. government’s 2023 budget


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