The Yukon government has applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to expand 911 services across the territory.
The request was filed this week and will likely take four or five months to work its way through the approval process.
The current application is only for an “auto-select” system. When it’s up and running, users in the Yukon communities calling 911 will be directed to press 1 for fire, 2 for ambulance or 3 for police and then be transferred to the appropriate office.
Right now, in emergencies, people in the communities have to know the seven-digit number to call for each of the services.
The auto-select system is just a temporary solution. It will only work from landlines, and won’t reach the community of Old Crow.
The government is committed to having a proper 911 system up and running in two years, Minister of Community Services Brad Cathers said.
President of the Association of Yukon Fire Chiefs, Jim Regimbal, said he is pleased that plans are moving forward.
Regimbal and the association were vocal opponents of the idea of an auto-select 911 when it was first suggested.
He now says he supports the idea because it’s only a stopgap ahead of an eventual fully-functioning system.
“If that was going to be the be-all-end-all for tackling 911 we were definitely pretty loud and boisterous in saying that we don’t support it at all,” he said.
Both Regimbal and Cathers said, based on their conversations with the CRTC, the auto-select model would not likely get approved if someone tried to suggest it could be used instead of a full 911 system.
“Part of the thing that we heard clearly from the CRTC is a strong indication that they also wanted to ensure that this was an interim step. Not something that was done in lieu of a basic 911 system,” Cathers said.
Once the CRTC gives the green light, the auto-select system will be up and going “very quickly,” Cathers said.
The system was tested in March of this year and everything went well, he said.
Phone customers usually cover the cost of 911 services. In Whitehorse that cost is 32 cents a month.
Since the Yukon government is footing the $20,000 bill for this stopgap solution, users shouldn’t see any bill increases yet.
When NorthwesTel applies to the CRTC for the full 911, officials will have to tell the commission how they plan to pay for everything, Cathers said.
“It is not impossible or inconceivable that government could be part of that cost structure but it’s also not likely. Those costs would probably be directly recovered from consumers following CRTC review just as happened with the implementation of 911 in Whitehorse.”
The two-year timeframe for full implementation gives the government time to do consultations in the communities, Cathers said.
“We’ve heard specific concerns from certain municipalities that feel that moving to a dispatch system might actually cause a decline in service in their view without more work being done upfront,” he said.
“The reason for that is the concern about lack of community understanding. If someone in Carmacks were to call up and say the fire or the car accident is just passed Ted’s old place, they are concerned it might cause additional delays.”
Cathers said he thinks it is possible to resolve those issues and move to a dispatch system that the municipalities will be comfortable with.
According to the CRTC, once the documents making up the auto-select application are posted online, there is a 30-day period for the public to provide comments. The Yukon government will then have 10 days to reply to any comments.
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