911 nuisance calls remain a problem for B.C. operators

The service that handles Metro Vancouver's 911 calls wants to remind people the emergency number is just for emergencies, and not for updates on traffic, weather, or advice on how to return Christmas gifts or program a new phone.
E-Comm dispatches emergency services for 30 agencies in Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, Squamish and Whistler. (E-comm)

The service that handles Metro Vancouver's 911 calls wants to remind people the emergency number is just for emergencies, and not for updates on traffic or the weather, or for general advice.

E-Comm spokesperson Jody Robertson says the service can't go a day without getting a strange call or two.

Recent nuisance calls have included people looking for a taxi, asking about traffic, looking for a weather forecast, or even asking how to program the voicemail on a cellphone.

"We've also had someone call to ask us if a specific store would honour returns without receipts," said Robertson.

"We do scratch our head and wonder... maybe people haven't quite caught on to the full purpose of 911," she said.

Operators were likely scratching their heads on Boxing Day when Burnaby RCMP had to issue a reminder to drivers waiting in the Metrotown Mall parking lot to stop calling the emergency service to complain about the traffic tie-ups.

Emergency resources diverted

Robertson says it can be frustrating for operators to field unnecessary calls, especially when their time could be better served responding to actual emergencies.

On Boxing Day, the Burnaby RCMP tweeted: Shoppers stuck in heavy Boxing Day sales parking lot traffic, pls don't tie up 9-1-1 emergency lines to report it's taking too long. (Screengrab from Twitter)

"These kinds of calls really do have the potential to tie up emergency resources — resources that are there helping people that are truly in need."

The vast majority of people use the service responsibly, but Robertson says it is still worth repeating that you should not use the 911 service for non-emergency calls.

"If your life is in jeopardy, if your safety, if your health, [or] your property [is at risk] or you see something like a crime in process — absolutely you need to call," says Robertson.

E-Comm handles emergency communications including radio and 911 calls for Metro Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, and the Squamish and Whistler areas.

Last spring, E-Comm reported that operators also receive about 70,000 accidental calls a year, including about 200 a day thought to originate from cellphones in people's pockets or bags that are accidently activated.  

On Thursday police in Chatham-Kent, On. released their own list of the silliest 911 calls they received, which included a 20-year-old who called police to complain that his dad was forcing him to brush his teeth.

With files from the CBC's Emily Elias