New 911 service in Okanagan-Similkameen allows texts

New service rolling out on Sept. 21 that will allow people to text 911 in the Okanagan-Similkameen

Directors of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen are hopeful a new text 911 service, rolling out Sept. 21, will someday prevent a sometimes frustrating situation when emergency calls are sent out of province.

On Aug. 21, while a wildfire raged near Okanagan Falls the lines flooded with calls to 911 from concerned citizens.

Directors heard Thursday from Dale Kronebusch, emergency supervisor for the region that a woman who attempted to contact 911 to report the fire using a Shaw Communications landline was eventually re-routed to Calgary, Alta. to an operator who knew nothing about the geographical location.

The woman, frustrated, hung up and called from a Koodoo cell phone and immediately connected to an E-Comm centre in Burnaby.

In addition to 911 calls in Okanagan Falls there were calls being logged in from the Kelowna area about a wildfire there at the same time.

“The lines were being jammed up and the overflow from that provider eventually went to Calgary,” Kronebusch said.

Michael Brydon, director for Area F, said he hoped the new text service once fully implemented might stop that from happening in the future.

“You certainly don’t want to discourage people from calling something in, but maybe when it’s apparent that something like that is going on they shouldn’t be. They’re just jamming up the lines and if another emergency happens people can’t get through. Maybe the text will address that problem,” he said.

The deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired will be the first to residents to be eligible to use the 911 text service.

Basically the user must register for the service through their wireless service provider. Once that step is complete if the need arises the user then calls 911 like they would have before and a text box will appear on their phone screens. The user then sends message to an operator who will then dispatch emergency personnel as required.

Eventually the service will be opened to other users as well.

At this point the RDOS along with the Regional District of Central Okanagan have agreed to launch the service on Sept. 21.

Since the service launched in March 2014 2,622 users have signed up across the country. The service is active province-wide in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and in most areas in Ontario and major cities including Calgary, Edmonton, Parkland County in Alberta.

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