Ross Potter wants people to understand what the GNWT’s 911 emergency call number will mean when it is introduced in November.
“At this point, all they’re going to be doing is basic 911,” said Potter, the director of protective services with the Town of Hay River and the community’s fire chief. “What that’s going to be is a call-forwarding service to whatever we’re using for dispatch. So they’ll never be talking directly to the fire department. They’re going to be dealing with people that are doing our dispatch. I just want to make sure everybody is totally aware that’s what it’s going to be.”
Potter was informing town council on Sept. 10, following a telephone presentation on the 911 system by a representative of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).
“There is talk that sometime down the road, there’s no time limit or no talk of times or anything else, they may someday go into dispatch, but we don’t see that happening any time in the near future,” Potter told council. “And even if they do go into a dispatch system, we’re still going to have to buy equipment that they can connect to. It’s going to be a really basic service, call-forwarding thing. I can’t even say how long down the road a proper dispatch service will be offered by the GNWT. I don’t see it in the foreseeable future, to be honest with you.”
In later comments to The Hub, Potter said the current emergency telephone numbers in Hay River will also remain after the introduction of 911.
“We are going to remain with all of our emergency numbers as they are when 911 does come,” he said. “911 just gives people an opportunity to get through to a number that they’re used to using if they’re tourists and that type of thing.”
The coming 911 system will obtain some information and offer advice to callers.
During the council meeting, Ashley Geraghty, the 911 program manager with MACA, provided councillors with a detailed description of the upcoming system.
One feature is the ability to obtain translation services in about 80 seconds.
Geraghty noted a community government is not paying anything for the service, because, like in the rest of Canada, it will be paid for by a user fee – a $1.70 charge a month on telephones and cellphones that MLAs have set for the next three years.
The 911 program manager noted some people wonder why they haven’t heard a lot about the planned system.
Geraghty said MACA hasn’t done a lot of communicating about it.
“We don’t want someone to see our ads that are saying 911 is coming in November and think it’s here now and call 911 and get no service, and then have to try to figure out or call the emergency number that they currently have,” he said. “That delay, which can be a minute or two minutes, can actually mean the difference between someone’s life. So for us we don’t want anyone to be hurt by our marketing.”
Geraghty said promotion will not take place until after Nov. 4, when people will be ready to answer 911 calls.
Like Potter, the MACA official said community governments will be asked to also keep their existing emergency numbers.