9-1-1 System at Risk of Catastrophic Failure Without Immediate Funding Relief from Local Governments

  • November 4, 2021

Vancouver, BC – British Columbia’s 9-1-1 emergency dispatch system needs an immediate infusion of funding support from local governments and development of a new funding model to avoid catastrophic failure, says the union representing E-Comm 9-1-1 dispatch operators.

The Emergency Communications Professionals of BC (CUPE Local 8911) say that recent crises of long wait times and unanswered calls are symptomatic of an understaffed and underfunded service. When British Columbians face an emergency situation, E-Comm’s 9-1-1 operators are the people at the other end of the phone line who connect them with police, fire and ambulance. They also perform dispatch and answer the calls for 33 police and 40 fire departments. But the system’s ability to respond has been critically impacted by insufficient staffing levels caused by a critical funding shortage.

A recent report commissioned by E-Comm by Price Waterhouse Coopers concluded that the organization cannot be successful with an understaffed system that relies so heavily on overtime and staff missing breaks or that simply abandons efforts to meet service levels. The report suggests that the current roster of 153 full-time call takers needs to increase by 125 to meet operational demands. In 2020, overtime totaled more than $2,950,000, which would have supported 35 FTEs.

The biggest issue with the current funding model is its reactionary design. Funding is based on past usage, which doesn’t account for costs rising at above-inflationary levels. Nor does it provide a necessary cushion needed for high-demand situations. The current flawed funding model prevents E-Comm from responding to existing problems, preventing foreseeable high demand failures, or meaningfully improving the services it provides to deal with ongoing higher than expected service demands.

“The 9-1-1 system is a basic and universal necessity critical to public health and safety for all British Columbians,” says CUPE 8911 President Donald Grant. “When you call 9-1-1 in an emergency, each and every second can mean the difference between life and death. The current situation is creating a dangerous cycle: our dedicated members who handle 99 per cent of the 9-1-1 calls across B.C. are breaking under the pressure of a system in failure, which only makes the situation worse.”

E-Comm call takers are supposed to answer 9-1-1 calls in five seconds or less, police emergency lines in 10 seconds or less, and non-emergency line in three minutes or less. But severe underfunding has resulted in staff shortages, pushing wait times on police emergency lines past twenty minutes and non-emergency wait times past 5 hours in some circumstances.

The system is supported by 37 local governments, based on population. The Union is calling for both an immediate infusion of financial resources into E-Comm and a concerted effort by municipalities to right size operations immediately. 

The funding model is population based and the following communities are funding partners:


E-Comm is a multi-municipality agency that provides emergency communications operations for British Columbia. The company coordinates 9-1-1 service for police, fire, and ambulance service, providing call-taking and dispatch services for multiple agencies. E-Comm’s service area covers Metro Vancouver (from Lions Bay to Langley), the Sunshine Coast Regional District, south Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, and the WhistlerHowe Sound and Fraser Valley Regional District areas. The company provides call-taking for all participating municipalities, transferring incoming calls to the appropriate agency.