By J.W. Schnarr
An issue brought to the attention of Municipal District of Taber council highlights a potential major issue with the centralized emergency dispatch system lauded by the provincial government.
During their regular meeting on Jan. 13, council was updated by Division 2 Coun. Ben Elfring on a motor vehicle collision which occurred recently, in which the centralized dispatch out of Red Deer made an error which could potentially endanger people’s lives in some situations.
Elfring told council the incident occurred in the County of Newell and involved a woman who died at the scene. He said two people at the scene called 9-1-1 and were patched in to the Red Deer dispatch, who had an issue with the location of the incident.
“(The callers) were standing right underneath the Range Road and Township signs, and they were told there is no such rural address,” said Elfring. He added when the residents told the dispatcher they were standing under the sign, the dispatcher argued with them about their location.
“They said that township and range road was not in Alberta,” he added. “That is sad.”
Eventually, they were able to find a place the dispatcher did recognize on the map, and then lead the dispatcher to the correct location.
Deputy Reeve Dwight Tolton said the lack of knowledge by the dispatch operator in Red Deer regarding local roads added stress to the situation, something he said was not necessary.
He said it could have been an instance where either the system was in error or the dispatcher was in error.
“When you are in that kind of situation you don’t need that extra of stress,” said Tolton.
According to a letter to Reeve Brian Brewin from Minister of Health Stephen Mandel, the AHS dispatch system has more than 280,000 commonplace names, and several processes in place, to ensure ambulance dispatch to rural and remote areas is not delayed.
“I would say it’s either a mistake in the software, or someone who can’t read the system,” said Tolton.
Municipal Administrator Derrick Krizsan said information would have been available through the Alberta municipal data sharing process. The partnership is made up of member municipalities with the goal of creating a repository of municipal addressing information, they received a $250,000 grant for it. Every organization, including Alberta Health, EMS, all of the dispatch have access to the information, which includes municipally collected information from road maps and municipal planners.
“Unless there was a fault in the municipal addressing where someone at the EMS misread the information, that information is available to all dispatchers,” Krizsan said.
“This is probably a 9-1-1 dispatch issue,” said Elfring.
“To me, emergency services in Alberta, it should be mandated all that information is in your databanks,” said Elfring.
“It’s a glitch,” he added.
“It’s a glitch, and it’s embarrassing,” said Tolton.