“There have been several emergency situations over the years and across the territory where having a 911 service would have improved response times and, in some cases, even saved lives.”
Despite this acknowledgement of the need for 911 in the territory, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Alfred Moses said the service will be delayed until November.
The department had previously said 911 would “go live” this summer; the project’s web page still says so.
According to Eleanor Young, the deputy minister of MACA, the delay is mainly caused by NortwesTel waiting on the government for certainty the project would go ahead.
CKLB spoke with Young after attempting on multiple occasions to speak with Minister Moses and being told he was unavailable.
That certainty came, she says, when the Legislative Assembly passed the 911 Act in March.
Asked if the department was hoping to pass legislation earlier, Young said the timeline likely would’ve been the same—and that was an oversight.
“Where we probably … weren’t thinking clearly was how much risk the telephone companies would be willing to take to do work before that legislation was passed,” she said.
CKLB asked if she thought the department could have done anything to incentivize the company to begin doing work before waiting on legislation.
“I don’t know that there would’ve been anything that would’ve made that faster,” she replied.
CKLB requested comment from NorthwesTel but was referred back to the Government of the Northwest Territories.
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Now the department turns to hiring and fee recovery.
MACA put off hiring and training for the service because “we didn’t want to have a bunch of people hired and trained and sitting here waiting for the system to be ready to go,” said Young.
The department will be hiring seven people as part of 911. Ashley Geraghty was hired over a year ago as program manager to lead the implementation. An emergency system specialist has also been hired. The other five positions will be as bilingual dispatchers. Kevin Brezinski is director of public safety for MACA. He says the dispatchers should be hired and trained by early fall. The dispatchers are required to be bilingual in both English and French with Indigenous language interpretation being contracted out.
In a previous interview with CKLB, Geraghty said MACA will need to report on the effectiveness of interpretation services to ensure they are dealt with within an appropriate timeframe.
At the same, the department is working with NorwesTel to set the cost-recovery fee for users.
This year’s budget saw $1.3 million go for getting 911 up and running. Those costs will be recovered through user fees charged to everyone with a phone in the NWT. Though Young said the department still doesn’t know how much the fee will be. The 911 Act caps it at $1.70 a month per user for the first three years of the service.
At a public meeting, Young said if the fees are lower than $1.70 then the savings would be passed on to users.