Still a few unknowns before 911 kicks in

From left to right: Eleanor Young, MACA deputy minister; Minister Alfred Moses; and Ashley Geraghty, 911 program manager. (CKLB)

According to Eleanor Young, the deputy minister of municipal and community affairs (MACA), the official launch date of the territory-wide 911 service may be delayed.

On Tuesday, Young along with MACA Minister Alfred Moses and Ashley Geraghty, 911 program manager, updated the territorial government’s Standing Committee on Government Operations on the implementation of 911.

Last session, MLAs passed the Northwest Territories 9-1-1 Act. In doing so, the telecommunications companies (mainly Northwestel) have begun putting in the necessary preparations to roll out the service. Young said based on these preparations, the department will be re-evaluating the launch date.

Throughout the evolution of 911, the government decided to house the service with Med Response, which currently dispatches medical support for communities and air ambulance. During the presentation, Young said the department found a suitable location to house both services, but, when asked by Yellowknife MLA Julie Green, wouldn’t disclose the location publicly for security reasons.

Eighty seconds in all languages

The department’s 911 Frequently Asked Questions page says a “general” 911 call should last about 45 seconds without any medical assistance over the phone. It also states that interpretation for calls in other languages than English and French will be available. As for interpretation in the nine official Indigenous languages? That’ll be based on interpreter availability.

“Should specific NWT official languages not be available due to lack of interpreters, NWT 9-1-1 will work with regions/communities on dialect recognition and appropriate call-transfer,” reads the page.

According to Geraghty, this will be done within similar call response times to other languages.

Under the 911 law, the department will be required to report on the effectiveness of the service, and that will include how quickly non-English calls will be dealt with.

Additional telco cost

This year’s budget saw $1.3 million allocated to getting 911 up and running with those costs being recovered through user fees charged to everyone with a phone in the NWT. The actual number still isn’t clear but the law capped fees at $1.70 per user for the first three years of service. Young said that if the costs are lower than that then the savings would be passed on.

During the presentation, though, the department said there could be an additional fee levied by the telco companies to recover their costs associated to 911. Again, those fees have yet to be determined but Geraghty said they were about 30 cents in similar jurisdictions to the NWT.

‘False sense of security’

Yellowknife Centre Julie Green said she was recently on the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway and had no phone service. This prompted her to ask how the department is addressing the many dead zones in the territory.

As a quick note of background, the government opted for a cheaper version of 911 that required callers to identify their locations vocally. A more expensive option would have tracked call location.

“I don’t want people to have a false sense of security that because they’re on a road they have access to 911 when in fact they’re in an area where there’s no coverage,” she said.”

Geraghty said the department was advocating for better coverage. Deputy Minister Young explained later that it was doing so through the Department of Infrastructure to see if coverage could be improved in addition to scheduled roadwork projects.

While it may not be a solution to dropped service, Young also said that the current emergency phone numbers will remain active after 911 is working. Some of the communities, she said, will be connected to the service via satellite. If that connection was to fail then people will have to rely on those local emergency numbers.

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis is a reporter with CKLB. Previously, he worked at The Review newspaper in Vankleek Hill, ON. He tackles anything in his work; his interest focus on the environment, Indigenous communities and politics. His first experience in the North was in 2016 as an intern with Up Here magazine. He and his partner fell in love with Yellowknife and are very happy to be back. Now they're looking to explore and experience anything the North has to offer.

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