After years of planning, 911 is now available anywhere in the Yukon where there’s landline or cell service.
“While we may never know whose lives or homes are saved because of it, there is no doubt that Yukon-wide 911 services will make a huge difference to some of our fellow Yukoners,” Justice Minister Brad Cathers said at an announcement Thursday.
Whitehorse introduced 911 in 1995. Until now it was only available within an 80-kilometre radius of the city.
Yukoners living outside the city had to dial local seven-digit numbers to reach their emergency services.
Now a call to 911 will connect with an operator in Whitehorse who can send the call to the appropriate local first responders in any community.
“911 is widely recognized as a number we can call in the event of an emergency. The RCMP is pleased to see that this important service is now available across the territory,” said Yukon RCMP Supt. Brian Jones.
A new 911 call centre was opened earlier this year. It’s operated by the RCMP on behalf of the Yukon government.
“For many of those communities served by the RCMP across the Yukon, it will likely take some time to get used to which number to call in the event of an emergency,” Jones said.
The local numbers will still work. Residents can continue to use them when a situation is not an emergency, he said.
The new 911 will likely not work on satellite phones, Cathers said. People in that situation should call police directly at 667-5555.
Yukon only has a basic 911 service. That means the 911 operator doesn’t automatically know where a call is coming from.
Officials are reminding Yukoners to know their address and prominently display it on their property.
“We as citizens have a responsibility to make sure that our civic addresses are clearly visible,” said Michael Riseborough, first vice president of the Association of Yukon Communities.
“911 is only one component of an emergency system and if we can do our part by ensuring that our addresses are available to those that are responding to assist us it will really make everybody’s life easier.”
The Yukon’s Department of Community Services has been working with unincorporated communities to create civic addresses since 2014.
The work has been done for Tagish, Marsh Lake, Mount Lorne and Ibex Valley. The department is currently working with the Southern Klondike Local Advisory Council on addressing for Carcross.
Once that’s done, the work will expand to other unincorporated areas that don’t have advisory councils, the department says.
Municipalities are responsible for their own addressing.
“We have to know where you live. If we don’t know where you are, we’re not going to be able to get to you,” said Jim Regimbal, president of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs.
Northwestel president Paul Flaherty said having 911 is important particularly for visitors to the territory.
“They may be very accustomed to using a 911 number and it’s been foreign to them to have to dial local numbers previously,” he said.
Emergency organizations, including the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, have called for territory-wide 911 for years.
In 2014, a house fire in Dawson left onlookers not knowing the right number to call.
A good Samaritan helped pull a 19-year-old from the house with only minor injuries.
Weeks earlier, winds picked up at the Dawson landfill, spreading a fire from the burn pile out of the contained area and towards some propane bottles. The landfill operator didn’t know Dawson’s emergency number so he called a friend who then call the fire chief’s personal cellphone.
The Yukon government is planning a campaign of advertisements and mailouts to educate people about the new system. More information can be found at 911yukon.ca.
Dennis Berry, the assistant deputy minister of protective services, warned the public to only use the number in an emergency.
“Don’t test 911, don’t call it to see if it works,” he said. “We know it works.”
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