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911 might finally come

Jess McDiarmid
Northern News Services
Published Friday, December 7, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Yellowknife could have an 911 system within 18 months, the mayor said last week.

"In my state of the city address for the last five years, I've said, 'Maybe this year, maybe this year,'" said Gordon Van Tighem. "This time, I would say it looks like within the next 18 months."

NNSL Photo/Graphic

A study to figure out what needs to be done to set up 911 service in Yellowknife will be underway soon. - NNSL file photo

The city is accepting proposals for a feasibility study that will determine what needs to be done to get a 911 system up and running in Yellowknife.

It is an implementation plan and budget more than a study, said Van Tighem.

"In a nutshell, what we're looking for now is the ABCs," he said. "How do we get from where we are to a 911 implementation for Yellowknife and how much would it cost us today?

"It's not do we want to do it, it's how do we do it."

Money has been set aside in the draft budget for 2008 to 2010 to get the system started and to renovate necessary facilities.

The city is also in discussions with the Government of the Northwest Territories, which Van Tighem said expressed interest following a resolution passed by the NWT Association of Communities encouraging the government to help implement a territorial system.

"A whole bunch of neat things might come out this year," said the mayor.

Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Michael McLeod said Nov. 29 in the legislative assembly, when questioned by Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro, that plans to deliver 911 service have been hampered by lacking infrastructure, logistics and cost.

He said the government is working with the city, however, and working on what it would take to launch the service across the territory.

RCMP Const. Roxanne Dreilich said 911 systems provide a beneficial integrated service to communities.

"We would certainly welcome something like that in Yellowknife," said Dreilich. "It would certainly enhance the ability for the RCMP to respond to emergency occurrences as well as to liase with our responding partners."

Dreilich said the system could speed response times because services could be dispatched simultaneously.

Discussions about setting up 911 started in the early 1990s but there was no technological infrastructure or money to carry it through.

Then in December 2000, a 31-year-old woman riding a snowmobile broke through the ice of Prosperous Lake while her common-law husband, riding well ahead of her, crashed and was seriously injured.

Passersby found the man and rushed him to the hospital, while trying to call 911. Garbled communication with emergency workers then directed them to the wrong scene.

Meanwhile, the woman managed to get out of the frigid waters and walk nearly a kilometre towards some cabins.

Emergency workers found her frozen to death the next day.

A coroner's report nearly a year later strongly recommended the city implement 911 service.

That led to the creation of a committee to investigate how to put the service in place. The 2004 report, funded by the territorial government, recommended installing a call centre at the RCMP detachment, said Van Tighem. But the RCMP estimate on the cost was too high.

Around the same time, two Yellowknife firefighters were killed battling a blaze and the city was subsequently charged by the Workers Compensation Board.

"That diverted a lot of people's ability to work on the project because they were working on other things related to worker's compensation instructions and rebuilding morale and other things in the fire hall," said Van Tighem.

A recording was put in place in 2002 so when someone dials 911, they are directed to call their local emergency number or the operator.

This is the next step, said Van Tighem.

"The main thing with 911 is that it's universally recognized, so if you get tourists coming through here or you get people coming through for work and they come upon an accident, their immediate reflex is to call 911."