Town council expresses concern over new Dufferin 911 dispatch system

January 19, 2017   ·   0 Comments

Orangeville Mayor Jeremy Williams and at least one town councillor aren’t happy with the quality of service local residents are receiving from 911 dispatchers based in Sudbury, the Mayor going so far as to suggest the Town could potentially opt out of its current agreement with the County.

The issue was at the forefront of discussion at Monday night’s Town Council meeting, with Chief Wayne Kalinski and Sgt. Dave McLagan of the Orangeville Police Service (OPS) on hand to provide some insight into the quality and effectiveness of the current system.

Sudbury-based Northern911 has been processing emergency service calls from within Dufferin County since June 28 of last year, having secured the contract towards the end of 2015. Prior to Dufferin putting the contract out to tender, that service was provided by the OPS.

According to Sgt. McLagan, the first few months of operating under the new system have been riddled with various technological and communication errors.

“Between June 28, which is when Northern911 took over Dufferin County’s dispatch service, and October 31 of last year, there were 150 incidents flagged where the system didn’t work the way it was supposed to work,” Sgt. McLagan said.

The majority of those incidents, according to Sgt. McLagan, related to 911 calls being sent by Northern911 to the wrong emergency service provider. He estimated that between three and four percent of all 911 calls from Dufferin County have been misdirected because of issues such as call-taker error and problems surrounding cellular calls coming in from jurisdictional boundaries.

Sgt. McLagan, who had been asked along with Chief Kalinski to provide the information to both Town and County councils by the Orangeville Police Services Board, said he simply wanted what was best for local residents. He suggested a possible compromise could see Dufferin County incorporate all seven of its emergency service agencies together into a blended 911 call centre to avoid the misdirection of calls throughout the region, something he said was “the standard” in Ontario’s major urban centres.

Speaking out during question period at council on Monday, former Orangeville Fire Chief Andy MacIntosh said he was “very disappointed” in the standard of service Northern911 has provided since taking over operations in June.

“It seems to me that this is all about money, and not safety,” said Mr. MacIntosh – Northern911 won the contract after quoting Dufferin $30,000 a year for its dispatch service, $70,000 less than OPS had been charging the municipality when it held the contract.

Mr. MacIntosh added, “As a citizen, I don’t like the idea that our emergency calls are bouncing out to Sudbury before hitting the necessary responders here in Dufferin. I think it’s an unnecessary delay and would like to see it changed.”

Coun. Gail Campbell agreed with Mr. MacIntosh, saying she, too, had concerns over the consistency in which mistakes were being made in the new system

“The problem here is that the service Northern911 is providing doesn’t seem to be improving. Initially we looked at the errors and put them down to this being a new thing and we expected things would get better, but looking through this report it seems there are errors every single day,” Coun. Campbell said. “I really think we need to do something as a council because these incidents should be going down, but they’re not. It’s concerning because for a lot of these calls, time is absolutely of the essence.”

Mayor Williams did not hold back when discussing the Northern911 service, stating it was an “inferior system” compared with a significant number of other systems used across Ontario.

“I feel it’s super important that services like 911 try to get the best possible response time – that’s absolutely crucial to getting a positive outcome in these often-critical situations,” Mayor Williams said. “It’s no good having a really cheap, inexpensive 911 system. The whole idea of having a 911 service is that you have incredibly fast response times, because otherwise what’s the point.”

He added, “I really feel like (the county) is not saving a great deal of money with this contract, but (it is) adding a great deal of risk to our citizens.”

His solution would be for Orangeville to simply opt out of the “decades-long” agreement that has seen Dufferin County provide 911 services to the Town.

“I think we need to look into the legalities of whether or not we can do that, to see if we have this option, but I believe we do and I believe we should,” Mayor Williams said. “If we can separate ourselves out and (operate) our own 911, that would be ideal. We already have all the equipment from when OPS handled dispatch prior to the switchover. We have the incredibly skilled individuals, that know this town like the back of their hands, who would be able to provide the absolute best service to our citizens.”

He concluded, “I’m not content with simply sitting back and accepting that between three and four percent of all 911 calls will be misdirected on an annual basis. I want a real solution.”

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