Ottawa police change 911 processes after jet-skier drowns

Neco Cockburn and Andrew Seymour , Canwest News Service

Published: Friday, April 11, 2008
OTTAWA - Ottawa police say they have implemented numerous changes following a series of communication failures on the part of emergency operators that resulted in a delay of more than four hours in the search for a missing jet-skier who later was found drowned in the Ottawa River in September.

In a review released on Friday, police said they have changed computer programming and other protocols after the incident, which ended with the discovery of the body of 44-year-old Ottawa chartered accountant Mark Laughlin.

Laughlin was riding his personal watercraft on the river between on Sept. 8 when it appears he fell off, or became separated from, his jet ski.

While his unoccupied personal watercraft was discovered by boaters at 4:05 p.m., dispatchers confused the call with another call that came in 16 minutes earlier involving a second missing man on a personal watercraft in the same four-kilometre stretch of water.

That man later was towed to the Aylmer Marina unharmed. It wasn't until Laughlin's common-law wife contacted the OPP at around 8:22 p.m. that police and firefighters realized Laughlin was missing and launched a full water, ground and air search.

An internal review into the events of Sept. 8 has led to numerous changes, according to police. They include:

. Computer programming changes were implemented in order to prevent call information removal by accident.

. All police communications personnel continue to receive customer service training relating to "active listening" on both training days and during their initial training period.

. All police communications personnel were made aware of the factors impacting the call.

. Nautical maps of the area waterways are now available in the force's communication centre. Additional research relating to current mapping software and the use of GPS coordinates is ongoing.

. Procedures have been drafted and communicated to include the manner in which a vehicle description is given and received, along with the exchange of detailed information with other agencies and the exchange of information within the communications section during shift changes.