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Alarm bells at 9-1-1 dispatch ignored by NDP ahead of heat wave response failure

VICTORIA (October 26, 2021) – Emails obtained by the BC Liberal Caucus under Freedom of Information (FOI) requests reveal alarm bells were ringing at E-Comm 9-1-1, well in advance of the heat dome that killed 569 British Columbians.

“British Columbians expect someone to answer the phone and an ambulance to show up when they call 9-1-1 for help. To see emails obtained under FOI appear to confirm reports that people died while waiting on hold for an ambulance is deeply troubling,” said Interim Leader of the Official Opposition Shirley Bond. “Call wait times had been steadily increasing over the 12 months before the heat wave and these documents make it clear that that the crisis at 9-1-1 dispatch and the ambulance service was ignored by John Horgan and the NDP in the months leading up to the heat wave that claimed the lives of 569 British Columbians.”

New documents reveal that warning signs were steadily escalating at E-Comm 9-1-1 in the year before the June heat dome that saw jammed 9-1-1 phone lines. Records of frantic internal emails between senior executives during the heat dome crisis show that B.C.’s Emergency Health Services were drastically under-resourced and ill-equipped to handle the flood of emergency phone calls that occurred from June 25 to July 1, 2021. At one point, E-Comm 9-1-1 felt so frustrated they considered holding a press conference to directly appeal to the government.

“A month before the heat dome, E-Comm 9-1-1 data analysis concluded that BC Ambulance Service delays were ‘compromising public safety overall’ and by June 28, 2021, they were struggling to work with maxed-out BC Emergency Health Services with over 200 calls waiting in queues to be assigned an ambulance,” added Bond. “There are 569 families that deserve to know why this NDP government failed to act before these delays cost so many lives, and why the Premier, knowing full well the system was on the verge of collapse, shamefully insisted this was all just a matter of personal responsibility.

 

Background:

  • New documents revealed that warning signs were steadily escalating at E-Comm 9-1-1 in the 12 months before the June heat dome that saw jammed 9-1-1 phone lines and 569 deaths.
  • Records of frantic internal emails between senior executives of E-Comm during the heat dome show that BC’s Emergency Health Services were drastically under-resourced and ill-equipped to handle a flood of emergency phone calls from June 25, 2021 – July 1, 2021.
  • June 3, 2021, data analysis from E-Comm 9-1-1showed that BC Ambulance Service call wait times were “compromising public safety overall” — almost a month before the deadly heat dome.
  • At one point,  E-Comm 9-1-1 felt so frustrated they considered holding a press conference to directly appeal to the government.
  • Eventually, call response times grew so bad that E-Comm 9-1-1 proposed abandoning their policy to remain on the line with callers until BC EHS dispatch would accept the call.
  • Emails from June 28, 2021, largely appeared to confirm a Reddit thread claiming that people died while waiting on hold for an ambulance
  • Key quotations include:
    • June 3, 2021 – email from Suzanne Halliday (Executive Director, Data Analytics and Decision Support, E-Comm 9-1-1): “The message we need to land with [BC Ambulance Service] is that their answer delays are compromising Provincial 911 service delivery… BCAS is compromising public safety overall by negatively impacting 911 call answer ability due to delays with BCAS call answer.” – CID1309, p. 12 & 13
    • June 28, 2021 – email from Jasmine Bradley (Director of Corporate Communications, E-Comm 9-1-1) to Executive Leadership Team regarding BCEHS Reddit thread: “I’m assuming it’s one of our staff. Nothing that’s untrue – but it does make me nervous to think about more and more people potentially speaking out publicly… The fact that people died while waiting is mentioned.” – CID1309, p. 30 & 31 (Reddit post also included)
    • June 28, 2021 – email from Oliver Gruter-Andrew (President and CEO to the E-Comm 9-1-1 Board of Directors): “[BCEHS] are 100% maxed out with calls coming in and waiting to be dispatched. Informally, I was told last night that over 200 calls were waiting in their queues to be assigned an ambulance to attend.” – CID1308, p. 23
    • June 29, 2021 – email from Stephen Thatcher (Vice President of Operations, E-Comm 9-1-1) to Rob Gay (Area Director, Regional District of East Kootenay): “As you may be aware, delays in transferring requests from 9-1-1 call takers for the ambulance service to BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) have been slowly increasing over the past 12 months.” – CID1309, p. 22 (emphasis added)
    • June 30, 2021 – email from Tracy Lim (Director, Emergency Communications Centres, E-Comm 9-1-1) to Suzanne Halliday (Executive Director, Data Analytics and Decision Support, E-Comm 911): “What the heck is BCEHS doing to come up with other creative solutions – including having unskilled people taking the call and holding them o their side vs ours.” – CID1309, p. 8
    • June 30, 2021 – email from Oliver Gruter-Andrew (President and CEO to the E-Comm 9-1-1 Board of Directors): “the government needs to get in. Should we say more, such as “This is for BCEHS and the Ministry of Health to fix”?” – CID1308, p. 19
    • June 30, 2021 – email from Sandra MacKay (Vice President, Legal & Governance, E-Comm 9-1-1): “I have been thinking about whether we should be doing a press conference, direct appeal to the Province. Or asking our RD’s to invoke their emergency powers.” – CID1308, p. 19
    • June 30, 2021 – email from Stephen Thatcher (Vice President of Operations, E-Comm 9-1-1): “So Oliver, Sandy and I are all on board re dropping these calls from our queue to EHS’s queue. Oliver is quite firm on this point… Also in discussions with Metro Vancouver as to its view of departing from our stay on the line policy.” – CID1309, p. 8


Attached FOI Documents:
CID308 & CID309

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