I am the senior dispatcher at the dispatch centre in Penticton and have been a member of our dedicated team for 20 years, and before that a firefighter. I feel that the public should know exactly what is at stake here. What we do and what cannot be done remotely (from another dispatch centre) is very different. For instance, we monitor Channel 16 on the marine band continually — the only licensed emergency service agency in this area to do so. This would be gone should dispatch move to Kelowna. How can you put a price on that? You’re talking lives here. It has been provided free to all residents of the RDOS for many years. We field hundreds of general enquiries per day, complaints, alarm tests, systems in service/out of service, manchecks, space does not allow me to list all our duties. This is in addition to our fire and first responder calls.
My area of responsibility is the radio communications section. The type of system that all three other bidders have proposed to use is called ROIP (radio over internet protocol) and I do not feel that we should proceed along this route. The commercial version for public safety agencies (ie: police and fire) requires a much higher standard of internet propriety and safeguards against failures. We aren’t talking about the average Shaw or Telus home internet connection to run ROIP safely; it requires much higher standards. What are the first things to fail during a major disaster or power outage? The internet and the cell phone systems (cells get overloaded). I do not believe that South Okanagan and Similkameen is ready for this technology, because the internet systems presently in place are not up to the standards.
I believe that Telus and the B.C. government are working on a plan to provide good quality internet service to rural areas of B.C. but this will take time. I have been told by our radio tech that places like Anarchist Mountain, Tulameen and Willowbrook do not have the required speed and bandwidth today to even meet “household” high speed internet standards, let alone public safety ones. ROIP is used in Alberta by the RCMP, however, Alberta has spent millions upgrading their internet grid with many safeguards in place to achieve those high standards. We do not even know if some of the main cities in this area are up to the required levels. There was not, as far as I know, any testing done on the RDOS areas to assure us that things will work with ROIP.
I cannot believe that anyone could vote to go ahead with any such system, without a guarantee of certainty. It is my opinion that someday it will be the way to go, but not at this time. Our present radio linking sites cover the entire RDOS region very well and have a high level of safeguards and backup systems. They seldom go down and never during power outages, full backup generators exist and come online immediately. We have only had a couple of failures that I can recall and most have been due to lightning strikes, which can affect anyone; nothing is 100 per cent safe. The RCMP, EHS and Forestry all use radio links and some dedicated Telus lines; nobody that I am aware of is using this in B.C. for public safety dispatching at present. I don’t want to see things fail; let’s stick to what is tried, true and tested. Of course, I also believe that there cannot be a price put on local knowledge.
Allan C. L. Stark