During this year’s Emergency Service Dispatchers and 9-1-1 Awareness Week (April 5-11), British Columbia’s 9-1-1 operators have a simple message for the public: please help us serve you better by keeping the lines open during the COVID-19 pandemic so that people with life-and-death emergencies of any kind can get the help they need.

“Since the crisis began, we’ve seen an increase in non-emergent COVID-related calls—people asking for general information about the coronavirus: guidelines for self-isolation, travel quarantine, or social distancing advice,” says Emergency Dispatchers of BC (Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 873-02) unit chair Matthew Bordewick.

“These calls are tying up the lines for both life-and-death calls related to the virus and emergency calls generally for police and fire-type situations. Really, the best possible outcome for this year’s awareness week would be greater understanding that 9-1-1 is not a counselling line but is strictly for emergencies.”

If you are seriously ill or have COVID-like symptoms and need help seeking medical attention, said Bordewick, please do call 9-1-1. But if you have COVID-like symptoms or possible exposure and just want some guidance on whether to self-isolate or get tested, your first call should be the 8-1-1 line for HealthLinkBC, the Public Health. If you have no symptoms at all and have not been exposed but are just seeking information, it’s best to call the COVID information hotline (1-888-COVID19).

“If you are calling 9-1-1 with a serious COVID-related emergency, our operators will ask pointed questions that might make you feel uncomfortable. But these questions are aimed at ensuring the safety of responders to your emergency call, so we appreciate your understanding,” said Bordewick.

CUPE 873-02 has over 500 members in B.C., including more than 80 support staff. Their call takers and dispatchers, who daily receive about 4,100 emergency calls, are the first point of contact for 9-1-1 callers covering 25 regional districts, 40 fire departments, 33 police agencies and 99 per cent of B.C.’s 9-1-1 call volumes.

For more information about emergency dispatchers, visit www.911bc.com.