Silence surrounding the region’s newly upgraded emergency communications system speaks volumes about its effectiveness, say those who use it every day.

Police and fire chiefs around the region say the lack of feedback from frontline staff on the new and improved CREST (Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications) system means it’s working as hoped to improve safety of emergency responders and the public.

“In fire service, no news is good news,” said Frank Macdonald, Saanich’s deputy fire chief. “When things are going really well, you tend not to hear people talking about it, but when things aren’t going well, you hear a lot, and we used to hear a lot of complaints about the quality of communication, or the lack of it.

“Right now, we rarely hear any chatter.”

Scott Green agrees. Saanich’s chief constable said whenever there’s an issue, it echoes through the lunchroom, gym and patrol room.

“But right now, it’s radio silence because the system is working,” he said. “Officers feel much safer and the coverage and reliability is much better in the new system.”

“They have seen a big difference,” said Gord Horth, general manager of CREST. “The new tech makes communication seamless as you pass from cell to cell.”

Macdonald, who was around when CREST was established 20 years ago and has heard the complaints over the years, said the system is now significantly more robust and powerful.

“It covers the same footprint with three times the number of towers,” he said.

“The noise-cancelling technology and other features have reduced repeated communications and sped up message receipt and delivery,” said Darren Hughes, chief of the Oak Bay Fire Department, noting firefighters are more effective and everyone is safer when they can concentrate on their task rather than having to constantly repeat themselves when reporting their situation or the status of a fire.

“This is equipment that has to be reliable all of the time,” he said. “This is time-critical communication that has to work every time.”

Macdonald said on the old system, when firefighters were on the end of a hose or working with air packs, trying to communicate was difficult, leading to distorted and unintelligible messages being relayed.

“The amount of that has been greatly reduced, so it’s safer and more consistent,” he said.

Green said the difference is “night and day.” “The system has been good and reliable and much safer in my mind.”

He said being able to encrypt communications also offers privacy protection for members of the public interacting with police, and ensures operations are not compromised by people listening in.

CREST agencies place as many as eight million calls on the system each year, and has capacity for more.

Read the full Times Colonist here.

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