Whether it’s a pipeline explosion, tornado, plane crash or train derailment, Brandon’s 911 call centre responds to them all.
"Our team deals with virtually every bad news headline that happens in Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg," said Ross Robinson, the city’s director of emergency communications.
Robinson appeared before city council this week to mark a 20-year milestone for the Brandon Public Safety Answering Point. It was Jan. 1, 1997, when the city’s 911 call centre expanded to serve communities outside city limits.
In the past two decades, the centre has grown significantly, and now deals with emergencies spanning from the borders of Ontario to Saskatchewan, and from the United States border up to Churchill.
"If you’re outside of the (Winnipeg) perimeter and dial 911, you’ll be speaking to a city of Brandon dispatcher housed at the No. 1 Firehall," Robinson said.
The essential service is considered an integral part of the province’s first responder network, with partners like the Office of the Fire Commissioner, Emergency Measures Organization and Manitoba Association of Fire Chiefs.
"We’ve come a long way in those 20 years," Robinson said. "While servicing Brandon it was identified there was excess capacity and we were able to take on other jurisdictions. There’s been steady growth since our first non-Brandon communities came on line."
Robinson explained the first year budgeted revenue was $340,000. It has now grown to $2.3 million on an annual basis.
"Fees in 1996 were $2.50 per person, per year and they’ve now gone up to $4 per person, per year," he said.
The City of Brandon sets the fees and invoices communities directly.They maintain contracts with all communities on 911 and have a business relationship with them for the provision of 911 services, according to Robinson.
The 911 team currently includes 28 permanent dispatcher positions to ensure 24-7 service, 365 days per year.
Robinson noted Brandon was one of the first in the country to provide updated GPS tracking of cellphones, as well as one of the first to provide the text to 911 service for deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired people.
The current business model generates sufficient revenue to make the centre a "zero-cost enterprise" for Brandon taxpayers, Robinson said, adding they are poised to take on new revenue streams. They are working with 13 northern communities that are striving to get 911 service.
"In the next three years, we’ve got capital acquisitions totalling almost a million dollars, and all have been provided from our current reserves," Robinson said.
This will provide radio systems out to 2037 and 911 call answering services out to 2032.
Mayor Rick Chrest said the 911 centre is a blend of "good people and good technology."
"They’re armed with the greatest of technology there and it’s quite amazing to me how it all flows together," Chrest said. "It certainly takes very well trained and dedicated people to make it all gel, so it’s pretty impressive and we’re pretty lucky to have it here."
City councillors and the public are encouraged to save the date of May 31, for a party to recognize 20 years of dedicated service by Manitoba’s "first" first responders.
» Twitter: @jillianaustin