Recent History – 2000
Sept. 1, 2000, By Cees Mond, Daily News Staff
A few more months, and RCMP Telecoms staff will make the much-anticipated move to the detachment’s top floor.
That means, the communications workers get windows they never had before, desks that move up and down at the flick of a button, all-new radio equipment, and a new challenge: providing 9-1-1 service for the entire Peace.
What used to be the coffee/meeting room and a stationary room is being renovated to house the new Telecoms department by Nov. 13, in time for the implementation of the 9-1-1 emergency service for which Dawson Creek will be the primary answering centre.
Connie van Uden, the manager of the Operational Communications Centre, as it’s officially called, is excited about the new challenges.
Dawson Creek already handles all the radio traffic and phone calls of police detachments from Tumbler Ridge to Fort Nelson after hours. When the new 9-1-1 system is up and running, Dawson Creek will be answering all emergency calls throughout the region, including police, fire and ambulance, 24 hours a day.
Ambulance calls are sent through immediately to the B.C. ambulance dispatch centre in Kamloops, but the Telecoms people have the ability to listen in on the call, “in case (the caller) also needs fire and police assistance,” says van Uden.
Fire departments are alerted for fire calls, and police complaints are taken by whoever answers the phone first.
For fire and ambulance calls, that may mean an extra step compared to the current system, but having highly trained operators work the phones, coupled with state-of-the-art equipment, means the delay is no more than a few seconds. The real benefit is in the fact that when 9-1-1 comes on line, it eliminates all other emergency numbers, so no one has to remember more than those three numbers to make an emergency call.
For the extra work, van Uden has hired four people in addition to the current 14 operators. They work 12-hour shifts on a four days on/four days off schedule.
What’s going to make their work a lot easier, van Uden said, is that the four new stations will be independent, meaning all operators can reach all RCMP detachments and answer all calls. At the moment, there is one Ômaster’ station, and two ‘slave’ stations that have only limited communication.
The workload on the three or four people on shift every night will, therefore, be more balanced, she said.
Van Uden says it’s hard to predict how much more busy the Telecoms operators will be with 9-1-1.
Besides answering phones, operators also handle the radio traffic with RCMP members, and monitor members on a five-minute rule, meaning the operator checks in with an RCMP member who’s away from the police cruiser on an investigation after five minutes, to ensure the safety of the member.
Operators also do computer work, checking licence plate numbers and outstanding warrants, dispatch complaints and do the paperwork on complaints.
“Operators have to be able to multi-task,” says van Uden. “They listen to the radio, answer the phone, type, prioritize calls.”
On busy nights, that can be very demanding, says Dwayne Reeves, who started with Telecoms last June.
“You’re mind is going 100 miles per hour all the time,” he says.
Stephen Crowell has worked with Telecoms for six years. He says he enjoys the adrenaline rush on busy nights, and the challenge the job offers.
Crowell can multi-task, so he can drive and talk on the cell phone at the same time, right?
“No problem,” he says. “I just pull over and take the call.
“I’ve taken too many calls in here of people who haven’t (pulled over).”
The job is not for everyone, says van Uden. The demanding schedule means people have to be prepared to work nights, weekends and holidays. It doesn’t always make for an easy family life, but the four days off in every eight days is nice. At the moment, there are about as many male operators as female operators
“Both can do it as long as they have the aptitude to multitask,” van Uden says.