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A look inside the nerve centre

What goes on in the 9-1-1 call centre; new service coming for deaf, hard of hearing

9-1-1 call centre

Gord Taschuk, a civilian operator at Durham’s 9-1-1 call centre, takes down information from an emergency call. The call centre, along with others like it across the country, will soon have new technology come online to assist those that are deaf, hard of hearing or communication challenged in an emergency.


By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Having the 9-1-1 call centre for Durham Region and a shooting gallery in the same building sounds like an odd marriage.

But if one were to stand in the Whitby call centre, you could hear a pin drop.

The call centre, housed at the Durham Regional Emergency Operations Centre, sees emergency calls from across the region cross through its doors. From there, operators working in 12-hour shifts send out the call to the relevant emergency service to ensure that help is on the way.

But what about those who are unable to use the telephone?

As it stands, 9-1-1- services are not as easily accessible for those that are deaf or hard of hearing than those that are not.

“The history of contacting 9-1-1 for deaf, hard of hearing or communication challenged people is through TTY,” says Susan Knox, Durham Regional Police’s manager of 9-1-1 services, of the teletype machine, which has a keyboard and small screen that transmits messages. “They didn’t dial 9-1-1, they dialed a 10-digit phone number that brought them through, ringing in on a specific phone set at every 9-1-1 centre, and then that machine has a type capability.”

Another option is available through the nation’s largest telephone provider.

“Bell Canada also offers a relay service to the deaf, hard of hearing and speech challenged community where they will have this TTY at the Bell end,” she says. “They will translate, they will turn it into an audio call and they will dial 9-1-1 on behalf of this caller.”

However, another option is about to come online that will connect that person directly with the 9-1-1 centre.

“As technology as changed – cell phones, mobility, texting – this is where the people in these communities now live is in a text format.”

This new technology is called Text With 9-1-1. This is not to be confused with Text To 9-1-1, which is the current model being used south of the border.

The new subscription-based service would see a person in need of services call into 9-1-1 on his or her cell phone. Once that call comes into the call centre, the operator would see this person is subscribed to the service and would then be able to open a text conversation with them.

Making the phone call will allow the call centre to gain valuable information, such as GPS coordinates and a chance to listen to any background noise to get a better idea of what may be going on.

“In order to use the text services, you must still dial 9-1-1. Now I have your name, address and telephone number,” Knox says. “So I still have the security of some written information should you not say anything, I have an open voice line whether you use it or someone else uses it or I can hear something going on in the background. We wanted to keep the intelligence, if you will, that we got from a traditional 9-1-1 call and enhance it by offering text on top of it.”

The American model differs in that it allows a person to send a text directly to the call centre without making a phone call. However, Knox says such a method means the operator doesn’t receive as much potentially vital information that the Canadian model does.

“The United States started it. Now, we take longer to do things in Canada, but we feel we do do them better when we do make a decision,” says Knox. “The States went by way of county or community or state…it’s all over the map. There wasn’t a sign up, there wasn’t a registration process, so people could just text to whatever the number is for the 9-1-1 call centre.”

The Canadian initiative is being done as one whole project, rather than piecemeal like the Americans, Knox adds.